nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
August 15, 2004
The performance of Reconstruction, by Clifford Lee Johnson III, began with a disclaimer. “Due to circumstances beyond [their] control,” the playwright was required to step in for one of the two actors, and they had put the show together in precisely five days. “Every writer’s worst nightmare,” we were told, and rightly so. We were informed that they had treated the week as a workshop for developing a new play and were warned that the actors might have to ask for lines. They did, but only occasionally. Given the circumstances, the performances were impressive.
Reconstruction is the story of Ally and Ford, a wife and husband who are spending the evening in their bedroom desperately trying to revive their sex life. The catch is that Ally has undergone mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, and reconstructive surgery. This show is really far more Ally’s story than it is Ford’s. Ally’s moments are the heartbreaking ones. She describes her surprise that she misses being ogled by men in public. She chuckles at her own analogy of the change to a reconstructed breast filled with saline, “milk to tears.” These moments are personal and real, and Alice King (Ally) does wonders with them.
The problem is, this show is a comedy. Johnson has created a genuinely funny show, and most of the comedy is built out of wonderfully mundane moments. In a phone conversation with their daughter, they have to convince her not to flush her grandmother’s fish down the toilet—because it’s not like Nemo; it’s a city fish. Ford tests Ally’s breasts for natural feel, size, and weight (yes, there’s nudity in the show) to which Ally responds, “Don’t squeeze it like a Nerf ball!” The entire show sounds very much like a real couple, in a real bedroom. Sometimes they are playful, sometimes comically frustrated.
Unfortunately, the show is so dominated by this light atmosphere that it undermines the serious moments that are presented. It seems to be trying to recreate a couple’s strained attempt at levity to deal with a painful situation, but it falls short.
However, I have my own disclaimer: Reconstruction seems to have genuine potential, and I would very much like to see a finished version. I applaud the actors, director, et al. Their efforts were apparent. And I daresay the average playwright would require far more than five days’ notice for appearing in nothing but bikini underwear and rose petals.