nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
August 18, 2006
Norway and Moscow are sister and brother. They’re father’s a diplomat. Which is why they’re named after geography. Get it? If you didn’t get it the first time, a lot of geographical humor will show up throughout Lizardskin, a new play by a new playwright, Jen Silverman. There are some real insights here, but there’s also a little too much that’s a little too cute for me.
Lizardskin is a three-character play. There’s the sister and brother, played by Melissa Miller and Paul David Story, and the tall mysterious stranger, Max, played by Chandler Williams. The set is a skeletal representation of the pet store at which Moscow works and where Max stumbles in one night, imposing himself on the lives of the siblings. These three people are all strangers here in New York and in their own skin, and the strange triangle they make is the drama that will unfold. They live in a very small world and there just might not be room enough for all three.
Moscow and Norway live their lives on the run. They never seem to be in the same country at the same time as their father, who may, in fact, be on the run from them. These kids have been all around the world, but they never seem to feel at home. They play a countless number of little games with each other that reveal to us their alienation from the world and the intense closeness that they feel for one another. This is a poignant take on the kind of strained family dynamic to which so many of us can relate. My problem with the alienation that these characters feel in the larger world is that the play is so hermetically contained that everything about the outside world is too vague to understand in this context. My problem with these characters and their games is that they are not very compelling. The middle-aged couple that plays games in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are so creepy and compelling because their games are so cruel and yet so much fun. The games that the siblings play in Lizardskin only show how caught up Moscow and Norway are in themselves. Their games are bitchy and snarky and kind of boring, and makes them seem not so much complex, but really immature (she’s 23, he’s 17).
There’s a lot of direct address to the audience, during which the siblings quibble over the best way to tell this story, but I’m unable to discern what effect this has on the story, other than to convey to the audience (or at least this audience member) that the playwright herself is self-conscious about her own play. The most compelling character is Max, with his sexual ambiguity and his secretive motivations, but mainly because he is an unknown element. Once he becomes as familiar to us as the siblings, he is less interesting.
The cast, especially Williams, is very good, and Katherine Kovner uses her directing prowess to keep the claustrophobic qualities of the play palatable. Above all, the playwright is clearly intelligent and talented, even if this play is probably too self-consciously clever for its own good.