Any Day Now
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 6, 2009
Any Day Now, the new play written and directed by Nat Cassidy that's opening the InGenius Festival at Manhattan Theatre Source, takes place in the kitchen of the Colby home in New London, Connecticut. The play opens with Mom and Dad—Pen (short for Penelope) and Adam—on stage; she's making chicken salad for dinner and he's seated quietly at the table. The elder daughter, Beverly, arrives; it's clear that Beverly is a bit of a control freak and her relations with her parents are strained, but she's ready to help out with what she immediately recognizes as a crisis. Shortly thereafter, younger daughter April turns up. The sisters do not get along. Pen confides in April warmly, leaving Beverly to ask complainingly why nobody confides in her. April's husband Josh is here also, and it turns out that the two of them are about to get a divorce. And Beverly's husband David arrives, with news that their daughter Jackie is being expelled from college because she was caught dealing drugs.
It does not take long for the scene to reach a cacophonous crescendo. This could be the family in August: Osage County or any number of contemporary dysfunctional family dramedies.
BUT...there is one significant difference that I haven't mentioned yet.
Dad is dead.
In fact, he's a zombie, staring out dead-eyed from his seat at the kitchen table, having risen from his grave about a week after he was lowered into it. There's a sort of epidemic of this kind of thing going on, you see, and citizens are fearful although the zombies appear to be passive and non-threatening. Dad's presence is definitely throwing Mom off, but she seems, in her way, to like having him around again. April is weirded out but trying to understand what it all means, which eventually leads her to some really interesting research into various religions' beliefs about resurrection of the dead and the relationship of that phenomenon to the apocalypse. Beverly wants Dad and all other zombies to be removed or destroyed. This conflict among the living Colbys fuels the main plot developments in Any Day Now.
The first act mostly feels neatly off-kilter, with the audience never quite sure whether to laugh or to gasp. Cassidy packages his supernatural theme with such naturalistic aplomb that he evokes David Lynch, particularly the very first episode of Twin Peaks, where you were trying to decipher the creator's intent while increasingly jaw-dropping weirdness unfolded uncontrollably before your eyes.
The second act is longer and more expository, centered around a long dialogue between April and Beverly that is more conventional than anything else in the piece; I wanted it to be more absorbing and revelatory than it ultimately proved to be. The third act introduces the religious theme along with some political stuff that feels like a reaction to Sarah Palin and, more generally, our national mood post-9/11. Cassidy shifts gears radically to give us a finish that's not really anticipated or justified by what comes before. I wonder if a more focused conclusion would be more satisfying.
Cassidy's direction is splendid, sustaining the heightened, off-balanced naturalism beautifully throughout. His cast of seven is superb: Elyse Mirto and Paige Allen are excellent as April and Beverly (with Mirto doing a remarkable transformation of her character as the events of the story wear her down); Anna O'Donoghue is very convincing as the college-dropout Jackie; Tim Ewing and Arthur Aulisi are invaluable as the sisters' husbands (Ewing plays the henpecked David with enormous dignity, while Aulisi makes the about-to-be-divorced Josh enormously likable and ineffably sad); and Waltrudis Buck and Anthony Spaldo anchor the play as the parents. Spaldo's role is almost entirely silent and he is spectacularly convincing as a specimen of the undead just a few feet away from the spectators.
Any Day Now is further evidence of Cassidy's talent and intelligence as playwright and director. Some editing and tightening would improve it. It's a long evening, but one filled with surprises and rewards.