Morning, Afternoon and Good Night
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 4, 2008
This is a triple bill of short plays from 40 years ago or more; largely unfamiliar, they deserve the hearing they're getting in this fascinating program directed by Oleg Braude. The (literal) centerpiece is a Tennessee Williams rarity, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen. It's a play I've read but never seen (I can't remember a production in NYC during the past decade or so). It's always a thrill to discover something by Williams. Preceding it is Michael Locascio's A Corner of the Morning, which has the distinction of being the first original play ever presented at La MaMa (back in 1962; an amazing bit of theatre history). Capping the evening is William H. Hoffman's early gay play Good Night, I Love You (from his Caffe Cino days).
Let me tell you a bit about how Braude has staged these plays. They're performed on a stark but naturalistic unit set by Alex Polyakov, whose basic structure remains the same throughout though the furniture and dressing changes as appropriate. Everything on stage, including the actors' costumes, is black or white, giving the entire production a nostalgic, almost grainy feel that reminds us that we're seeing work that originated in an era that may have been simpler than nowadays.
And indeed, both the Locascio and Hoffman plays feel very much of their time. A Corner of the Morning is about a man and woman waking up in a hotel or motel room after a one-night stand. I was immediately aware how surprising that might have been to an audience in 1962. The piece tracks their morning-after conversation: he is smitten and playful, but she wants to end the encounter as quickly and painlessly as possible. Neither quite succeeds. Some of the attitudes depicted here (especially hers) may feel out-of-date, but the feelings conveyed are not.
Good Night, I Love You gives us a young man and a young woman on the phone late one night with one another. He's gay and trying to work through (again!) problems with his boyfriend Tom. She would like to talk about her own issues with a guy named Steve, but she faithfully helps her friend through his mini-crisis, narrating with him a fantasy in which he becomes pregnant with Tom's child. Theirs is a fanciful, sweet, and melancholy conversation, and the piece is a touching account of a platonic love that, one imagines, will prove far more enduring than other relationships these two characters will have.
The Williams play is startling. In it, a man and a woman trade fantasies, or obsessions. Hers takes the shape of one of Williams's remarkable monologues, in which she imagines herself registering under an assumed name in a small faraway hotel, where she will pass the rest of her life unencumbered and alone. Williams gives practically no hints as to who these two people are, or where, or what their particular circumstances happen to be. I suspect that Braude has cast them too young here to be as convincingly at the end of their ropes as the play's dialogue suggests they are. But the desperation and longing at the heart of this play are clearly communicated.
The actors are Melissa Schoenberg and Scott Douglas Cunningham (A Corner of Morning), Emma DeCorsey and Shea Elmore (Talk to Me Like the Rain), and Alicia Henry and Guy Chachkes (Good Night, I Love You). DeCorsey, who has the plum assignment as the Williams heroine, fares best. I unfortunately had trouble hearing Schoenberg during a couple of key moments in her play.
Rediscovering lost works such as these three plays yields great rewards for those in search of our theatrical/social past. I enjoyed having the opportunity to see them all on stage, where they belong.