Absence (a play about loss)
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman
July 27, 2006
When a person is in a terrible accident, how does it change her life? Absence (a play about loss), written and directed by Kimberly Patterson, explores the different types of losses that Liza, a 30-something woman, experiences after losing half of her leg from complications after a car accident.
In the play, Liza and her husband John return to the house where she grew up in Pennsylvania. The play explores her losses of independence, mobility, and security, and—more interestingly—her changing marriage and her negative feelings toward her changed body. Liza moved to New York City from Pennsylvania years before with the dream of becoming a dancer, and though she is past the age of opportunity for becoming a professional dancer, losing her leg also forces her to face the loss of her dream.
Liza's young niece, Nellie, curious about her aunt's accident, provides the audience with insight into the couple's state of mind. Because Nellie is so openly curious, asking lots of questions and pushing limits with her honesty, it's more obvious how shut-down and uncomfortable Liza and her husband are acting.
Despite these interesting themes, in the end, Absence is far less effective than it might have been. The actors do not always connect with one another when it seems like they should, and the conflicts between the characters don't seem immediate or deeply rooted. For example, Liza and John do not really seem to have a deep love that makes the conflicts of their marriage important, even when John tells Liza how much he loves her. Additionally, some of the plot seems artificial or convenient. For example, in one scene, Liza puts her crutches next to the bed and takes great trouble to crawl across the bed to the other side; when John trips on them and moves them, it starts a fight. However, it's unclear why Liza, who struggles so much to get around, goes through the trouble of pulling herself across the bed in the first place, and when she doesn't enter on the opposite side of the bed later in the play, it seems even more contrived.
As Nellie, Jennifer Saltzstein's acting is the most successful of the cast; with her open, delightful energy, she is believable as a young child. As Liza, Sarah Doudna seems to be in touch with her physical limitations and somewhat in touch with her emotional conflicts, but she seems like she could use more rehearsal for development. Michael Weems, as John, has an awkwardness that could work very well for the character with more exploration of his character's depth. There is also a beautiful puppet peacock, designed by Patterson and played by puppeteer Jennifer Huang. The puppet is captivating, and I would have liked to see more of him. Overall, because of its interesting themes, the play has a lot of potential, but needs some re-working.