nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 4, 2008
Usually it's a good thing to leave a play wanting more...but not always. In the case of Edith Freni's hour-long Kidstuff, the feeling of not being satiated is frustrating: there just isn't enough story to make for a fully satisfying experience.
The protagonist of Kidstuff is Eve, a thirtysomething woman who is deeply unfulfilled by her life, though we only have the sketchiest of information as to why. What Freni tells us about Eve is this: that her mother has recently died and that she's been estranged from her family for a while; that she is in therapy (an immersive/invasive variety of group, led by a cultish egoist named Hector who seems to encourage his patients to insult and abuse one another); that she's hard-up for cash (when we first meet her, she's at a jewelry store, trying to sell some of her inheritance); and that she has never gotten over a high school romance with her first (only?) love, Chet.
Chet cheated on her with another girl, Francesca, more than a decade ago. For reasons that Freni never advances, Eve is still stuck on this abortive affair. It's the subject of all of the therapy sessions we are shown; and it's also the subject of Kidstuff's main plot line, which begins when Eve unexpectedly encounters Chet at the jeweler's. Chet is there to pick up an engagement ring. (I won't tell you whom it is intended for, but I think you can guess.)
Chet and Eve spend a long evening together (I think it's just one evening; that was not absolutely clear to me, however), during which both seem to come to some conclusions about their pasts and presents. Or not...because though Eve presumably makes some kind of progress at the end (though, again, it was vague as to exactly what she has learned), Chet, apparently, does not.
It all adds up to just enough information about our leading couple to start caring about and rooting for them, but nowhere near enough to feel any kind of deep empathy for them. The final blackout, after a second scene in the jewelry store, comes a good 15 minutes too soon. We just need to know more—back story and resolution, both—for Freni's admittedly intriguing ideas to really gel, to really start to matter.
Erica Gould's direction of the piece seems well-suited to it; Freni's narrative jumps around time and space and Gould's staging adequately contains it. Sarah Nina Hayon and Justin Blanchard, as Eve and Chet, make much of characters that are essentially underwritten, and the rest of the company bounces back and forth between one set of roles in the therapy scenes and another set in the other parts of Eve's life. The production design is appropriately economical, but I admit to being a little bit bothered by Caleb Levengood's set, in particular the shop counter that unfolds into a (very high off the ground, very uncomfortable-looking and unconvincing) bed.
I love Partial Comfort Productions' energy and focus on contemporary lives and issues, and Kidstuff exemplifies the kind of work they do best. But this fragmentary dramedy feels more like a long trailer than a whole play.