equal to or less than two persons per square mile
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
April 26, 2007
Let me get some of the audience comfort considerations out of the way first. This piece is performed on a rooftop in East Williamsburg, but yes, they move inside if it rains, and yes, they take care of you if it's cold out (it was very chilly on opening night, but they had set up heat lamps and offered each member of the audience a blanket). Considerate of them, I thought; a nice detail.
Actually, the whole production of equal to or less than two persons per square mile has a number of details that stick out. The piece plays out between Annie and Ben (Catherine L. Kung and Benjamin Heemskerk), who spend most of their time playing catch, watching old movies, reading magazines, and attempting—and failing—to have conversations about themselves, their hopes, and their goals. Inexplicably, a Cowboy (Erik Kever Ryle) is also on the roof with them, periodically interrupting them to make a statement or impart wisdom of his own. Both Kung and Heemskerk can be endearing as Annie and Ben; Heemskerk's underdog, bumbling performance in particular reminded me a little of the lead character Eric Foreman on That '70s Show, and in fact one of the show's highlights involves Ben thoroughly screwing up a karaoke performance of a classic '70s arena rock song. (I shouldn't tell you which song; finding out is part of the fun.)
Pleasant and fun though it may be to see, for all that's going on I'm not certain what ultimately happens in the play as a whole, or why the cast and crew made some of the choices they did. Joshua Briggs's script seems to imply that Annie and Ben are supposed to be somewhat apathetic, but for jaded, apathetic characters, Kung and Heemskerk's performances seem to be awfully...perky. So—are they manic, or jaded? Heemskerk is typing furiously on a typewriter when the audience enters, but rarely returns to it during the show proper; was the typing just "shtick"? Annie and Ben seem to be in the very early stages of a relationship, but when the Cowboy makes a sexual advance towards Annie, Ben does nothing; why not? Are they in fact dating, or what? And speaking of which, Ryle's cowboy seems at times to have come from the Sam Shepard playbook; but this seems intentional, as all three eventually come to a meeting of the minds about stereotypical gender roles. But, even so—what is a cowboy doing there?
The biggest "why" I left with was why this piece was presented on a roof. It was a pretty view, despite the chill, and we got a poignant moment when Annie and the Cowboy recall seeing the stars in the night sky in South Dakota, and the cast looks from a slide depicting a starry night scene on the plains to the dead sky above our heads. But other than that, I'm not exactly certain why this site-specific play had to be site-specific as such. Other than two references to the New York night sky, nothing seems to indicate that the play actually happens on a roof—it seems more like someone's living room. It's all pretty to look at, yes, but if this is indeed a site-specific piece, what about it is specifically germane to that site?
Again, the show is not unentertaining; everyone is charming, there are pretty things to look at, there are fun details that crop up now and again. Ben's character ultimately does grow up a little. I'm just not certain whether the rambling nature of the production is supposed to mirror the rambling nature of the characters, or whether it's a sign that the company was caught up in the details, like giving blankets to its audience, and lost the focus of the whole.