The Permanent Night
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 9, 2008
It's the New York blackout of 2003, and Spencer and his wife Heather are waiting for his wayward sister Jane to arrive so they can drive out to Montauk to see their mother. Spencer and Heather have a deceptively charming, shallow, and perfect life, complete with high social standing and wealth. As the lights go out, Spencer and Heather shine their flashlights and candles on the wreck of their marriage, and Jane flirts with a handsome young law student. Before the lights come back on, everyone has changed and nothing can ever be the same.
Written by Kari Bentley-Quinn, directed by Heather Arnson, and produced by Maria Romina Talabucon, this original play is having its theatrical debut at FringeNYC, and it is a surprisingly honest and appealing new work. After a slow start, the first act is well-paced and darkly comical as tensions and betrayals come into view, but the second act still feels a bit rough and unfinished. Nevertheless, the characters Bentley-Quinn has created are vibrant, flawed, and fully realized.
The actors are all quite good, and Kat Garson as Jane and Vina Less as her sister-in-law Heather do marvelous work as they struggle with their secrets and their shame, and the failings that have left their marks on them, even as they work to get past them. Their relationships with the ambitious and cocky Spencer (Dave Beagle) and sweetly straightforward Justin (Cory Whitfield) are taut, filled with hurt and betrayal, but also love and hope, and the possible specter of forgiveness.
The lighting design by Teresa Hull is amazing, using flashlights and candles to cast both shadows and light that is eerie and makes the audience truly feel that they are in a blackout. Arnson works with her actors well, but she could have used the stage a little more inventively, and the actors did not need to mime opening and closing the apartment door; the unnecessary action did not serve the play and indeed took away some of the punch of the dramatic action.
One of the pleasures of FringeNYC is discovering new plays. I look forward to seeing Bentley-Quinn further develop and refine The Permanent Night, as it packs an emotional and gently humorous wallop.