What Happened When
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 7, 2007
Daniel Talbott's new play What Happened When is taut, dense, and gripping. Talbott's excellent work as an actor, director, and producer has already been well-documented on nytheatre.com; this piece marks him as a fine playwright as well, and thus a quadruple threat among theatre artists.
It's about two brothers, whose names we never learn, who have a reunion in the bedroom of the younger; the older, we discern pretty quickly, is actually dead. Their conversation feels trivial at first: the older wants to know about what happened's since his demise; the younger shyly leaks out the information as he's quizzed:
BROTHER 2: Ever wear my stuff?
BROTHER 1: Your socks sometimes. Your deodorant. Your jacket. Sometimes your hat.
But gradually and ineluctably the talk turns serious and painful. I don't want to give away where What Happened When goes, but suffice to say that we discover that these brothers have faced their share of adversity and have adopted very different methods to cope with it. Great, essential humanity can be displayed in surprising and often opposite ways, and that's what Talbott shows us here, in a play that's finally about love and forgiveness, and what we do to bring both of those things about.
Director Brian Roff realizes the drama beautifully on an appropriately claustrophobic and homely (and uncredited) set. The play only lasts about 30 minutes, and the economy of Talbott's writing is mirrored in Roff's still, stark staging. Particularly striking is the absence of movement in this play about moving forward (either to death or into life): Jimmy Davis, as Brother 1, never gets out of the bed where he's been sleeping when the play begins, and Jacob Fishel (Brother 2) seldom rises from his chair, a few yards away. That both actors can nevertheless compel us so strongly is testament to their talent and to that of their writer and director.
Even though What Happened When is brief in duration, it packs a wallop; it makes for a satisfying and full evening of theatre, all on its own. It also makes us hungry to see all four of the young artists involved in more theatre in the future.