The Present Perfect
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
April 28, 2007
The Present Perfect is a pleasant new one-act from The Operating Theater that addresses the human affinity for materialism as manifested in an obsessive/compulsive love of furniture. Scripted by writer/performer/producer Kourtney Rutherford, the show is clearly a labor of love to illustrate American society's ill of worshipping objects. But the script itself often has a rough go at providing conversational heft, and a predictable right turn at the halfway mark of the play ultimately prevents the proceedings from leaving a major impression. Still, the concept of the piece itself has value and if art is truly a mirror upon society, The Present Perfect is worth more than a casual glance.
Grace (Rutherford) and Chip (Timothy Donovan, Jr.) are a married couple (in name only) in a cosmopolitan environment. Grace is an ultra-awkward OCD homemaker with an unhealthy amount of multi-colored glass vases on display in their ultramodern apartment. They are visited for a dinner party by their "friends," Jane (Christine Holt) and Geoffrey (Jason Schuler). It isn't long before a very Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf-ish game appears to develop during the drinking of cocktails and the over-the-top flirting between Chip and Jane. The couples split up, regroup, go in and out of the living room (with tête-a-têtes in between) and Chip and Jane come back looking rumpled. Chip becomes enraged with Grace's compulsive cleaning and smashes her newest addition to the floor, which she cleans up in an unusual and disturbing way. Grace leaves and her polar opposite, alter-ego twin sister Hope (also Rutherford) arrives with her trucker boyfriend Sam (Thomas Guiffre) to provide increased mayhem for the second half of the play.
The most complex and interesting relationships in the play, directed by Kevin Doyle, are, quite fittingly, the ones the actors have with the furniture. While Chip and Jane's affair is telegraphed to both one another and the audience, in contrast there is subtlety in the performance of the monologues that each actor gets to deliver on his or her love of a piece of furniture. And the over-arching declaration of shallow characters having a greater feeling for inanimate objects than each other is an artful damnation of modern-day America. For me, the piece was believable and relevant until the clichéd entrance of the "natural" character of Hope, and a return-to-roots reinvention that sent the piece in a direction that didn't feel organic to me.
On a very positive note, the set design by Megan Biddle is superb—creative, ultramodern, and as hip as can be. Biddle also provides the glassware, which is stunning. In a creative, postmodern ironic twist, within the program itself is a price list for all of the furniture, props, and costumes that are seen on stage. Special notice should also be given to the exquisite lighting design from Peter Hoerburger, which is rarely seen done this well at the independent theater level.
The Present Perfect has a good concept at work here, and is well-intentioned as a statement piece. But the plot points of the script, despite solid work from all the actors on an individual level, doesn't match the intensity of the concept and keeps this piece from achieving greatness. I think that the characters need more to work with in order to evolve from a two-dimensional sketch into full-blooded people. And certainly there's enough social satire at work to keep the play from using the cliché of a twin sister out of the picture entirely. With some more work, The Present Perfect could really hit home.