nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
August 15, 2004
Vincent Caruso’s The Space begins with a gabby speech to the audience by Nick, the queeny, pot-bellied, forty-something best friend of Tony, the angsty, pot-bellied, forty-something protagonist. I have no idea what is being communicated in the address, nor am I clear on why we are also periodically spoken to by Michael, Tony’s HIV-positive, drag queen friend, and at one point somewhere in the middle of the play, by Tony himself. Sometimes these monologues have to do with the devastating effect of AIDS on their community/generation; occasionally they comment on the fact that this is indeed a play; and usually they include a nostalgic nod to Donna Summer or any number of other disco divas.
I single out these instances not just because they are superfluous (most of the information they provide—that these are campy alcoholics with low self-esteem who have been to too many funerals—is restated in the play itself) and confusing (why are some characters aware that they are in a play and some are not? And furthermore, how is this conceit dramatically useful?), but because they contain the seeds of what makes the telling of this story tiresome and unconvincing.
The playwright seems to want to show us a story about a deeply dissatisfied man who desperately seeks, but sabotages his every opportunity for, a romantic connection. Like the characters in his play, Caruso relies heavily on cultural signifiers to express (or conceal) his true intentions. Whether these folks are lip-synching a Tina Turner song, doing imitations of Cher, or just-adding-Mommie-Dearest and calling it a punchline, there is such a dearth of genuine communication (or compelling miscommunication) that we do not identify with their pain as much as their inertia.
Director Karen Blood has done little to clarify the moments of direct address, much less setting the ground rules for the physical world itself—i.e., the invisible front door which is occasionally absent and the foyer that is sometimes hallway. This may seem a quibble, but when you’ve got a play called The Space and a subplot involving passive-aggressive tenant disputes, it seems it would behoove you to clearly establish your boundaries.
John Augustine's droll performance makes Nick’s opening chatter (and every other bit of his stage time) seem much wittier than the material actually is. He, unlike the rest of the cast, deftly selects the lines that deserve weight and tosses off the rest, finding the merriness in the misery.