nytheatre.com review by James Harrison Monaco
September 12, 2010
The structure of Exit/Entrance is in its title. We sneak a look at a couple's final exit from their apartment in the first act, and then at their move into the apartment, 40 years earlier, in the second. The marriage in between we never see. The idea of Aidan Mathews's play (and its big ambition) is that from the details, memories, arguments, and hopes Helen and Charles sift through in each act, this 40-year middle story will piece together in the audience's mind.
It's an interesting way to tell a love story, and it makes intense demands of its storytellers. Here's what Mathews, director M. Burke Walker, and the collaborators of the Origin Theatre Company had to pull off:
- Make the audience care about the immediate story of each act (the basic story of moving in, and the basic story of leaving).
- Orchestrate the words and actions of the moving in and leaving so that they tell a fascinating story of the marriage between, both without feeling forced, and without distracting us from the action happening in the present.
- Make the unseen story explode and deepen the present scenes, and vice versa—again, without feeling forced.
If they had succeeded (they don't quite), the demands of present life would engage us, spurts of Charles's and Helen's memory would jump to our minds as if out of the ether, and their lifelong desires would hover over our hearts. In short—their life would feel to us like it does to them as they live it. In a play about memory, that's a smart concept.
But this multi-layered experience didn't happen for me, and I think it's because of an over-tendency by nearly every collaborator toward "the mysterious." In Act I, Greg Mullavey and Linda Thorson (older Charles and Helen) drift around their apartment rubbing their hands, gazing off into some vague distance, speaking almost every line of Mathews's already weighty, abstract text as if they're talking straight to forces of philosophy, misery, and fate. This is in fact less interesting than two people who speak to each other. What the characters are actually doing in the moment was lost on me. There's a portentous (of what?) phone ring they refuse to answer. There are unclear problems of sexual intimacy (impotence? disgust? homosexuality?). There's talk of a son named Philip, but instead of giving him detail, the dialogue just makes him out to be some sad symbol of their sad marriage who may or may not even have ever existed (sound familiar?).
The second act, played by David L. Townsend and Lara Hillier, has a little more life to it. While the first act did little to invest me in what was happening in front of me, here we do get to watch younger Helen and Charles unpack and arrange their new home (always a telling task). Hillier is the most active performer, mainly because she speaks and looks at her scene partner and makes her desire simple and unphilosophical (young Helen wants to sleep with Charles, who avoids her for some unspecified reason).
Leaving a 40-year gap in the story is mystery enough. But added to all this is the conceit that the younger and older versions of each other actually live next door to each other and can hear each other through the walls, which again is never explained or attacked enough to give meaning. It doesn't help that the sound design only offers one repetitive, overly dramatic tone, and the set does little except to tell us that they moved in with fewer possessions than they had when they moved out.
Given what seemed the heart of Exit/Entrance, the creative efforts needed to slowly form a clear story out from the realm of mystery. Instead, the story got shrouded in vague choice after vague choice before it ever had the chance to be told.