nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 15, 2008
In Fluency, which is aptly billed as a "meta-theatrical romantic comedy," Jack and Olivia appear on a stage occupied with nothing more than a couple chairs and a few theatre cubes. They have no idea why they're there, but they see us in the audience, so they must be there to put on a show. They say they've been given no script, just the time and place. Olivia decides to take some initiative and appoints herself the playwright. She'll write a romantic comedy for the two of them: they'll go on a date, sleep together, have conflicting feelings, and possibly fall in love.
So, Olivia writes these rom-com scenes for her and Jack to act out. And, of course, as they do, they start to develop real feelings for each other. Possibly.
Kimberly Patterson's script can't seem to get past the concept that it's meta-fictional. Jack and Olivia spend more time talking about being stuck on stage without a roadmap and creating a play than actually talking to each other. Yes, I think part of the point may be that Olivia feels far more comfortable thinking about dramatic arcs than about her feelings toward Jack, but after a while the two of them seem more like abstract concepts rather than three-dimensional characters. They never really act like two people feeling a strong connection towards one another.
To be fair, this is an inherent hurdle for any meta-fictional work to jump over: despite the characters going on about having no script and having done no rehearsing, neither the dialogue nor behavior seems particularly improvised or spontaneous. Even though the characters are supposed to be "themselves," it's hard to believe that they really are. Charming as they are, I never thought actors Martin Soole or Jill Jichetti, who also directed, were revealing their own feelings toward one another.
There are some funny bits throughout the show. I like the part where Jack has to explain to Olivia through a bullhorn that he genuinely likes her. I also thought the scene where Olivia has Jack reading a monologue confessing his attraction to her like a sensual Frenchman was amusing. Olivia worrying that the two of them being together won't be dramatically interesting was also a nice touch.
But still, maybe I just wish Fluency spent less time on its Pirandellian jokes and more time on Jack and Olivia actually getting to know one another.