Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Navy Pier

Monologues are difficult to pull off. In most respects, they’re the most intimate form of theater: The character is directly addressing the audience, positioning each audience member as confidante. And yet so much of acting is reacting, and monologues deny actors access to that essential tool—or at least, they don’t necessarily make the audience privy to what’s being reacted to.

InProximity Theatre Company’s production of John Corwin’s Navy Pier takes a different approach, and the results are incredibly engaging.

There’s Martin and Kurt, two friends at the University of Chicago who as undergrads dream of being writers, and Iris and Liv, the women in their lives. Director Bryn Boice’s staging keeps the four actors in four nondescript chairs, seated right next to each other. Yet James J. Fenton’s set separates them from each other, visually framing them with poles between each chair. Each addresses the audience only, but the characters interrupt each other, providing their own dialogue when called for in each other’s stories. The effect is such that the audience is occasionally pulled out of its role of witness to serve as participant — or rather, both participants at once. It’s the intimacy of monologue without the loss of information.

Best to not spoil too much. The story begins casually, allowing us to get a sense of each character. It’s at once clear that red-eyed Martin is barely keeping it together, while Iris seems to be putting on a brave face: about what, we’re not quite sure. Liv has a melancholy determination about her, and Kurt is….well, curt. This is a story he clearly doesn’t want to be telling.

L to R: Jolie Curtsinger as Iris, Laurie Schafer as Liv, Josh
Clayton as Martin, and Michael Poignand as Kurt.
Photo by Lisa Soverino.
Josh Clayton brings a tender fragility to the role of Martin; he’s so insecure in his talent as a writer that he can only bring himself to defend it by proxy, insisting he’s as good at air-hockey as his more successful friend Kurt. Michael Poignand’s smug Kurt needs no such bank-shots, we think – and even when he momentarily removes his assured façade, he offers no apologies for his actions. (In what might be some sort of record, Poignand deftly establishes Kurt as a jackass in a single word.) Jolie Curtsinger and Laurie Schaefer bring artist Iris and historian Liv admirably to life as they react differently to the emotional abandonment by the men. (Indeed, many of the characters face or create parallel situations throughout the play; the different ways each reacts is revelatory.)

Each of the four creates a well-realized character in the vacuum of their own space, but it’s in context of their interactions that the ensemble truly shines. Lisa Soverino’s lighting and Amy Altadonna’s sound adds to the effect, subtly showing the passage of time and lending further weight to the tale.

There’s none of the stop-start rhythm of a classic series of monologues here. Instead, as betrayal is layered onto betrayal, the 90-minute one-act blazes along, and by the climax is paced like a thriller, with simultaneous action taking place in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Compelling throughout, by the end Navy Pier barrels toward its conclusion, sweeping the audience along in its wake.

Navy Pier continues through May 22, 2011, at Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre in New York, with performances Wed – Sat at 8pm and Sat and Sun at 2pm. Tickets are $18; visit or call the box office at 800-432-7250.

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