nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 13, 2006
After making a splash at last year's FringeNYC Festival with his excellent play God's Waiting Room, rising young playwright Ashlin Halfnight is back with Diving Normal, a new comedic drama about three urban twentysomethings. While lacking the depth and clarity of its predecessor, Diving Normal is still quite engaging and enjoyable.
The story takes place in the Manhattan co-op of Fulton, a rising young graphic novelist. One rainy night, Dana, his high school crush, unexpectedly shows up on his doorstep, wet, bleeding above the eye, and needing a place to crash. Both her mysterious appearance and Fulton's unconditional kindness pave the way for a budding romance between them.
Then there's Gordon, Fulton's socially-awkward neighbor, who is described as "C-3PO's love child." He attends weekly diving lessons at the YMCA, lets himself into Fulton's apartment at will, and has a big crush on Dana. Strangely enough, she innocently flirts back, even after she starts dating Fulton, and inexplicably starts accompanying Gordon to his weekly lessons.
But, weirdness lurks on the periphery. Dana starts showing up at Fulton's place unannounced and disoriented. And she's got some suspicious bruises on her body. Fulton is contacted out of the blue by his deadbeat dad, whom he's never met, for a clandestine meeting in Los Angeles. Then there's Gordon's surprising birthday ritual (which I won't reveal here). Everyone in Diving Normal has a skeleton in their closet, many of which come together in a surprising climax.
For its first hour, Diving Normal chronicles Fulton and Dana's move from friendship to semi-couplehood, and Gordon's subtle progression from the sidelines to center stage (both figuratively and literally), in convincing fashion. Telling little details about each character—like the way Fulton used to stare at Dana in biology class, and the way Gordon reminds everyone that he used to go to church on Sundays, but now he goes diving—flesh out the overall picture.
But then Diving Normal slowly starts losing its focus. Entire subplots—like one involving Fulton's ex-girlfriend—get introduced, then dropped, and it becomes increasingly difficult to discern the play's main thread. Is it Fulton and Dana's relationship, or Fulton and Gordon's friendship? Or is it Dana and Gordon's flirtation? Halfnight packs a lot of story into Diving Normal's 90-minute running time—perhaps too much. There's a lot of interesting stuff here, all worth exploring, but perhaps within a longer two-act frame.
The play is served by a top-notch production, expertly directed by Mary Catherine Burke. Eliza Baldi, Josh Heine, and Jayd McCarthy all give terrific performances as Dana, Fulton, and Gordon, respectively. Their onstage chemistry and teamwork help make the play's events easier to follow.
I think Halfnight has the makings of a great play here, one that could touch deeply upon themes of friendship, longing, and complex relationship dynamics. Right now, Diving Normal is only halfway there. But, Halfnight is a talented writer who has the ability and know-how to bring out his play's nascent profundity if he chooses to. That's not to dismiss what he's already got, which is really good. If you haven't met him already, Diving Normal is a fun and worthwhile way to meet a playwright you'll be hearing more from in the future.