Come Back to Me
nytheatre.com review by Matt Schicker
July 16, 2006
In Jesse Cameron Alick's Come Back To Me, two brothers, Jude and Ryokan, and the women in their lives have deep, intense discussions about myriad topics. All the philosophical ground covered is certainly worth discussing in a play, but all the talk takes leaves little room for character development or dramatic interest. The play ultimately fails at making us care about the discussions or the characters, and the solemn tone and lack of action weigh it down further, making for a trying experience.
That's not to say that there aren't some interesting elements in the play. The most affecting and well-presented aspects of the show are several short interludes in the form of enacted "parables," some with roots in Eastern religion, some biblical, which offer perspective on the contemporary characters' conversations and relationships. The "Parable of the Burning House" from the Lotus Sutra posits that sometimes a lie is the only way to "save" someone from things that would fatally hurt them. Other vignettes play out the stories of Lot, Naomi and Ruth, Abraham, and other biblical figures, shedding light on the arguments the family members make to each other about forgiveness, politics, war, death, race, sexuality, and other heavy subjects.
Alick's dialogue, though, seems too fact-packed to be realistic. In one scene a woman spontaneously quotes percentage statistics about pedophilia in America to her brother on the phone. The actress did her best to make this believable, but it's difficult to make this kind of material sound like anything but an informational speech.
Director Claudia Alick has come up with some interesting staging conventions with characters frequently occupying the same space despite the fact that they're having phone conversations from a great distance. It's a nice way of physicalising the central relationship: Jude and Rayokan have a great emotional and philosophical distance between them but as they argue about their beliefs they begin to know each other better and find some common space to share.
Unfortunately, these moments where the writers' ideas and the skills of the director come together are few. A major obstacle to the effectiveness of the entire production is the constant "background music" which attempts to prompt the audience on the mood of the scene. There is hardly a scene that isn't marred by this musical commentary, which makes it seem that the director doesn't trust the characters and situations to engage the audience on their own. I was so distracted by one song's lyrics during an important scene that it was difficult for me to focus on the actors.
The performances achieve mixed success. As the African American gay Buddhist Ryokan, marcus d. harvey is earnest and affectingly heartfelt. Jas Anderson as Jude is fine, but spends a lot of the play looking at the floor, even as he speaks, which isn't very interesting to watch. Kyana Brindle and Ella Turenne, as Isis and Jen respectively, do their best with underwritten characters, stiff dialogue, and odd stage business. Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris makes the biggest impression in one of the smallest roles as Jude's wife, Jill. Luqmaan-Harris is interesting, funny, sympathetic, and entirely real, qualities which unfortunately are not consistently found in the rest of the production.