nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 10, 2007
The writing in Jenny Schwartz's new play God's Ear is gorgeous; dazzling; thrilling. Take this example, an excerpt from a remarkable monologue that runs more than two pages in the printed text:
And then you'll hold me.
And protect me.
And I'll forgive you.
And you'll understand me.
And I'll never stop loving you.
And you won't ever think of leaving me.
And I'll laugh at all your jokes.
And you'll never disappoint me.
And you'll swoop down and save the day.
And I'll bend over backwards and light up the room.
And we'll thank God.
And God will bless America.
And with God as our witness, we'll never be starving again.
The places Schwartz takes us in her economical, poetic dialogue simply astound: her dialogue in this play is filled with unexpected juxtapositions and uncanny imagery that delight, amuse, confound, and challenge.
Her work benefits from the kindred spirits who have collaborated with her to present this world premiere for New Georges. Director Anne Kaufman trusts the words and trusts the audience to get them; she stages the thing like a postmodern low-key fever dream on a set (designed by Kris Stone) that's as full of surprises as Schwartz's drama. Olivera Gajic's costumes, especially one for the Tooth Fairy (one of the play's several unexpected characters), are witty and full of delicious detail. The cast, headed by Christina Kirk (who delivers the monologue quoted above) and Gibson Frazier as Mel and Ted, parents who have just lost their 10-year-old son in a drowning accident, are superb: they, too, embrace Schwartz's musical language and make it sing. (The other actors are Monique Vukovic as Mel and Ted's precocious daughter, and Judith Greentree, Raymond McAnally, Matthew Montelongo, and Annie McNamara as people who may or may not be real whom they encounter in their singular and very personal grapplings with grief.)
The play is ultimately positive and humanist, but Schwartz indulges in her wordplay wizardry even as her characters indulge themselves in fantasies and alternate realities to help themselves move through unfathomable pain. Is God's Ear a great work? I think not: it goes round and round much more than it goes forward, and the speeches—each a brilliant, polished gem of theatre poetry—start to feel less substantive as the evening moves on.
This is in part because Schwartz sets the bar so darned high at the very beginning of the play:
MEL: They said. Prognosis is—poor.
TED: Did you tell them to go to Hell? I would have told them to go to Hell.
MEL: I told them, take my reflexes, I told them, Give him my reflexes, I told them.
TED: They didn't say anything about miracles, did they?
MEL: Miracles? No. Not that I recall.
MEL: What about hope?
TED: Did they happen to mention hope?
Wow. It's probably too much to expect writing this good to sustain itself for an hour and a half. It almost does in God's Ear, which is why Schwartz's floundering toward her finish is a disappointment.
But this is as worthy a work as anything on stage right now, and people interested in the state of American drama need to take this play in. I will await Schwartz's further output with awe and anticipation.