One Thing I Like to Say Is
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
June 17, 2007
Lina has a dollhouse hidden in her closet, because sometimes she likes to cope with the world by making up stories about tiny people who do not exist. These people include the members of the Glimmershlingerhausen family, who may or may not bear some relationship to her own estranged family, may or may not include one or more Scottish butlers and a lot of haggis, and may or may not have a place on Nantucket—but not the one in Massachusetts. The one in Denmark.
Reality's a slippery place for Lina; once someone disappoints her, they shift for the purposes of her storytelling into the category of "people who do not exist." And once she's brought us into the world of Amy Fox's One Thing I Like to Say Is, reality is a bit of a slippery place for us, as well. The play is filled with stories—stories told to replace difficult memories, to mislead, to understand; stories told as threads connecting fragile people together. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether a character exists in the play's "real" world, inside of the stories, or—more often—both. When Lina talks about things that might (not) have happened in her stories, the kernel of the story is often a memory masked by a wish entangled in a childhood game turned on its head. When her brother Toby talks about something that happened in Chicago, he might be hiding an emotional revelation inside a lie inside a cautionary tale.
These days, Toby simply doesn't say anything at all about his past, his family, his history, not even to his new wife, Sam. Where Lina controls her world by constructing stories about things that might/never have happened, Toby controls his by not telling stories at all, by reinventing himself from the ground up. He'd like to meet Sam anew, every night.
When Toby and Lina last saw each other, Lina was 16 years old and pregnant; so was Toby's girlfriend. Though both were planning to abort the babies, somehow Toby and Lina's parents ended up raising a 16-year-old grandson who doesn't know who his parents are. Baffled by his grandparents' Jesus-loving, twelve-stepping life, Kevin muddles through—until his grandparents hit an elk with their car, and Kevin goes in search of one, or both, of his possible parents. What he finds is Sam—who's on a search of her own, to find, or at least to understand, Toby, who's disappeared. The rest of the play is about how these damaged and wary strangers try to reconnect to each other and themselves, one tentative encounter at a time.
Fox's short, punchy scenes—almost all of them either monologues or one-on-one encounters—throw out bridges from one character to the other, and just as often rip them away. Toby marries Sam—but then disappears on her. Sam reaches out to Lina—but can Lina maintain connections to both Sam and Toby? (And will the Scottish butlers help or hinder these endeavors to rebuild a family?)
Director Paul Willis and a strong ensemble (Amy Staats as Lina, Polly Lee as Sam, Christian Rummel as Toby, and Daniel Manley as Kevin) deftly negotiate the delicate emotional shifts of tone, time, and place among the play's layers and locations. Efren Delgadillo's set (a backdrop composed of a mosaic of images that can be backlit individually, and a set of tiered platforms, also featuring inset light-up images) provides some clever visual jokes, but the image vocabulary repeated a little too often—and I thought the configuration of the space sometimes forced a flatness in the staging.
Structurally complex, filled with shifting and intermingling layers of stories within stories, of monologues and dialogues that reflect on even as they contradict each other, One Thing I Like to Say takes an intricate route to a simple destination—the rebuilding of basic human connections. The destination may be possibly a little too simple for the journey—I wasn't entirely convinced by the optimism of the ending given everything that's come before—but the journey, rich and strange, is well worth taking.