An Impending Rupture of the Belly
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 19, 2010
In a way, everything you need to know about An Impending Rupture of the Belly is contained in its title. What playwright Matt Pelfrey is referring to here is a pregnancy: Clay Stilts's wife Terri is soon going to have a baby. And while there's the expected mix of pride and panic in first-time dad Clay's personality, there's also a disturbing sense of alarm and intrusion that is transforming him into a man that he didn't realize he could become.
To be sure, there are other factors as well. Though it's only about three years old, this is a 9/11 play, tackling head-on the anxieties of the new world order; Clay is concerned about terrorism, nuclear war, small pox, rioting—you name it. He is feeling particular pressure to protect his family in a dangerous time; he's a David Mamet character wrought more real and more sympathetic than we're used to—a privileged white man careening horrifyingly out of control because of his sense of impotence. When a neighbor allows his dog to poop on Clay's front lawn one time too often, Clay cracks. The results are terrible; perhaps tragically irreversible.
Terri is not the rock of support we might hope her to be, sadly (this is the one aspect of Pelfrey's script that bothered me, actually; Terri is a very unlikeable character). And Clay's key male influences are of no help to him, except to escalate his breakdown: his older brother Ray is a druggie dropout who lives inside a storage unit, and his best friend/work supervisor Eugene is a macho poseur who loves guns and George W. Bush.
Pelfrey, tautly and deftly, traces Clay's downward spiral. The story resonates because Clay so clearly could be any of us.
Godlight Theatre Company is responsible for Rupture's New York premiere, staged with trademark minimalist brilliance by artistic director Joe Tantalo. Tantalo focuses the story squarely on Clay's quavering psyche by keeping him in a literal spotlight for much the play and having the other characters drift in and out of his space and consciousness. These others are on the periphery, observing the increasingly paranoid protagonist, often from a height (they are physically located on a second level above the stage). Terri, significantly, is the only character who never comes come down to the stage area.
Tantalo's five-member ensemble is exemplary, with Nick Paglino riveting as Clay, who becomes more and more raw and exposed as the piece follows its inexorable course. Lawrence Jansen is terrific and more than a little scary as Eugene, while Ryan O'Callaghan gives us a braying bully in his performance as the irresponsible dog-walking neighbor. Gregory Konow and Deanna McGovern, Godlight regulars both, do their customary fine work as Ray and Terri, respectively.
Frequent Tantalo collaborators Maruti Evans (set and lighting) and Andrew Recinos (music and sound) match the director note for note with a stark design that is at once universal and dislocating.
An Impending Rupture of the Belly is as brutal as its title suggests it might be; though the violence in the play is described rather than graphically depicted, it's still tough to take at times. But as a portrait of the way that an increasingly hard-to-manage world mercilessly turns lives upside down, it's a timely and cautionary drama.