Arthur and Esther
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 21, 2007
Arthur and Esther is a solo show performed by one actor, but it has three stars: Tay Hanes, the actor who brings Arthur Huey to life; Sarah Norris, who directs Hanes beautifully; and Ross Howard's script, which is full of both outrageous dark comedy and deep sincerity.
I'll start with the script. Arthur and Esther is a two-act play, taking place over one long day, about a man who loses his job as a community librarian and must realize how he will cope with the loss. It may seem like a common enough problem to lose one's job (and potentially a boring job to write a play about!), but to Arthur, working at the library is a passion, a calling, something in his bloodline. It is one of the strengths of Howard's script that simple, common, everyday things of life—like a library, a barbeque, Toblerone chocolate—take on personal, specific meaning. He highlights the personal in the ordinary, and he does this throughout the play. Because of the loss of his job, Arthur is forced to face other losses he has experienced in his life, one of which cut him very deeply. He doesn't know what he will do, and his facing the losses he has endured and learning what he will do forms the conflict and the action of the play.
In the role of Arthur Huey, Tay Hanes captivates the audience for the length of the show. He creates a body language—for example, a strange smile that punctuates many of his thoughts—which brings Arthur to life. In the first act, which consists of dry, dark humor, Hanes remains committed and truthful, no matter how increasingly absurd the action of the play becomes. In the second act, his gestures and personality are recognizable beneath the persona he puts on. (I don't want to give anything away, but I consider it a strength of Hanes's performance that I could recognize Arthur in Act Two.) Hanes uses Howard's words to give Arthur a distinct way of speaking, making him very real and specific.
Under Sarah Norris's direction, Hanes moves around the stage, always with a purpose, and always with something to take care of. The play moves seamlessly from moment to moment, and I would guess that's because Norris and Hanes worked through each moment in detail. Under a poor director, this play could probably be monotonous—being a soliloquy/monologue—but it's clear that Norris has imagined it fully and the result is a specific and often exciting play.
Overall, Arthur and Esther is a sincere and ultimately compelling night of theatre. I enjoyed watching the craft of the actor, writer, and director come together beautifully in this piece.