One Thing I Like to Say Is
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
April 18, 2009
So once upon a time there was a big white house with green shutters and a green door. The house was looked after by a Scottish butler and was located in Nantucket, but not the Nantucket in Massachusetts. There was a mother named Meredith who was a prostitute and a father named Bill who was a violent drunk. And the couple had two children named Toby and Lina. Or maybe this house and its residents never existed. Or maybe this is a story about dolls in a white dollhouse with green shutters and a green door. Or maybe it's the dollhouse that never existed.
Intrigued? If so, then you will surely enjoy One Thing I Like To Say Is by Amy Fox, presented by Cockeyed Optimists Theatre Co. It's a delightfully loopy play about two adult siblings who are coping with the repercussions of growing up in a troubled family. Lina is a 32-year-old woman with a dollhouse in her closet who copes with her childhood by making up stories and playing pretend. Anytime a person hurts her she decides that person never really existed. Toby copes by keeping secrets and running away from his past whenever possible. And neither has spoken to their parents in 16 years. During that time, Bill and Meredith took into their home Jesus, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Kevin... who may or may not be the child of either Lina or Toby. And Toby married Sam, the only character in the play with a firm grip on reality. (The words "normal" and "well-adjusted" aren't necessarily synonymous in this fresh and funny world.)
Most of the stage is consumed by a big roofless "house," like the framework of a "playhouse" scaled to children (designed by Wilson Chin). A lot of the action of the play gets squished into the perimeter of the stage with the big house always looming there in the center. I love how bold this choice is and found the symbolism very effective. At first the house is reserved for when Toby and Lina play a flashback scene from a memory in the house. It is also the setting for Kevin's monologues while he is living with Meredith and Bill. Later in the play it becomes Sam's house as she learns more and more about Toby's family.
The play feels like a darkly funny nursery rhyme for adults. Since most of the characters are living (at least partly) in a fantasy world, the acting is usually a little heightened, ever hovering on the cusp of "playing pretend." Director Terry Berliner does a superb job keeping the outrageous performances and ambitious style elements of the show streamlined into the same world. Fox's clever plot resists neat resolutions whenever possible while dramatically chugging forward into unexpected places. All together, the production is an unqualified success and a whole lot of fun.
Cockeyed Optimists Theatre Company looks for the bright side of the human experience. Through that lens, this play seems to be saying that the world is so grim, it's better to just invent your own fantasy reality. Is that a valid coping mechanism during such crazy economic times? Or is our tight definition of normal psychology too close-minded in a rapidly expanding world? But maybe I'm getting too serious here. Suffice it to say that a Scottish butler may be handing you a fancy invitation to go play pretend in a big white house with green shutters and a green door. It's up to you to believe what does and does not exist.