nytheatre.com review by Dia Shepardson
June 8, 2006
After the curtain was called for Nothing, I headed straight to my local joint. With a scotch (neat) and a smoke in hand, I searched the jukebox for Peggy Lee's "Is that All there Is?" Not because the play left me cold. On the contrary, the play—adapted by Andrea Hart from Henry Green's story of the same name—is a witty, acerbic drawing room comedy reminiscent of the works of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. The pace is swift and the comedic timing on point.
No, my selection was because it seemed to me that Nothing's middle aged characters' lives echo the lyrics of the song. They break out the booze, light up cigarettes, and run off for hollow afternoon flings—social habits perhaps a consequence from past experiences. Wars have been fought, spouses have passed on, loves and fortunes have been lost. What remains is a cash-poor, uppity social circle limited to idle gossip existing in 1950s London. Liz, John, Jane, and Richard have arrived on the other side of youth self-absorbed, duplicitous, and often amused by the misfortunes of others.
The two characters teetering on adulthood, Mary and Philip, preserve a quasi-romantic relationship, mostly over the phone. Each one seems to be in the throes of self-discovery often attached to the youth experience. Mary struggles with marriage versus career while Philip wrestles with the notion that his real father may be Mary's father, John; a notion circulated by the gossip mill. This would make for a sticky, incestuous affair even more scandalous than the affair Jane and John enjoyed years ago.
And yet, believe it or not, Nothing is a comedy; an entertaining comedy. All the actors draw multiple laughs with double talk and evasive humor. Sophie Ward, as Jane, a manipulative socialite, delivers ongoing scathing commentary deftly. It's as if she is compelled to say nasty things about her rivals, friends, and even her family. Andrea Hart, as Liz, amuses as the tipsy and potentially volatile party guest. Enacting inebriation, she achieves tenuous physicality and speech, without seeming contrived. Pete Ashmore, as Philip, immediately grabs attention with his brooding confusion. He has a physical ease and comfort on stage rarely seen in younger performers.
The female characters seem to drive the action of the story as the males flounder about amenable to suggestion. As Liz explains, "You're one of these talkers Philip. You don't go out and do things." And John states, "I know, I decide and decide to make a great change in my life but I always seem to put it off." A ripe dynamic in the script, however I found myself longing for more fleshed-out portrayals. Though the characters themselves may be shallow people, the character renderings lack a depth that would enhance the storyline and the poignant emotional exchanges intended by director Robert David Macdonald (whose work has been restaged for this production by Philip Prowse).
As I take one last draw of scotch, snub my cigarette, and Peggy world wearily muses, I feel satiated from a pleasurable evening with the Brits Off Broadway.