In the eye of the beholder

 

A Thing Of Beauty

 

Written by Maurice Berger

Directed by Misti B. Wills

Ryan Repertory Company

Harry Warren Theatre, 2445 Bath Avenue, Brooklyn

Non union production (through October 14, 2007)

Review by Judd Hollander

 

There is beauty in the most ordinary and unassuming objects, if you only take the time to look for them, as Maurice Berger notes in his short play A Thing Of Beauty. This 30-minute work is currently being presented by the Ryan Repertory Company and while not living up to its full potential, is surprisingly touching at points.

 

Set in Central Park on an autumn day, sometime during the workweek, an aging gentleman (Johnny O'Connell), only known as Man in the program, sits down on a bench with a large piece of driftwood (curved, about 3-odd feet in length). It seems he was walking along the beach one morning and saw the object, among the seaweed and sand, hit just right by the sun to form a thing of beauty. As he sits with this treasure, various passers-by engage him in conversations regarding the object while revealing a more than a bit about themselves in the process.

 

Short as it is, the play is fraught with symbolism, particularly how when one grows up, one can fail to appreciate the simple beauty life has to offer. This become clear when the Man meets a young boy (Davonne Bacchus) who finds delight in the driftwood, whereas the boy's mother (Geri McKeon) is so overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a child and the potential dangers life holds, she's afraid to take a chance on anything, an attitude she will probably pass on to her son. There's also a harried working stiff, aptly named Jones (Ephraim Stanfield), a suffocated dreamer held captive by an image-conscious society and wife. The Man also meets a burned-out policeman (Tim Sheehan) who just wants to get through the day without any trouble, and a highfaluting rich woman (Amanda Vick) who tries to buy the driftwood when she thinks itís valuable. Even though this last character is there pretty much only for comic relief, one can see how empty her life by the way she talks about material things.

 

The cast for the most part works well, with the one exception unfortunately being that of the Man. They key character in the story, O'Connell is stiff in his gestures and speech, with all of his words sounding as if delivering a monologue. Whether describing the day he found the driftwood or trying not to annoy the policeman (who'd love to write him a ticket for littering), it all sounds exactly the same. There's no passion in his delivery, and nothing that makes us want to know who he is or what makes him tick. Unlike the other characters, who are more realistic and varied in their conversation and presence.

 

Direction by Misti B. Wills is okay, keeping the acting moving nicely in this very intimate space. However it would be nice to see more interplay between the various characters, instead of having one leave the stage after speaking with the Man and then having another appear.

 

There were also some problems with the dialogue. Supposedly set in the present day (according to the show program), there's a remark about Pablo Picasso being alive (he died in 1973), and at one point Jones talks about the need to looks like he's worth $20,000 a year, a figure far below current middle-class status. Costumes (by Wills), however, look more like present-day wear. As such, these remarks distract one's attention from the story.

 

Still and all, A Thing of Beauty carries with it some very important lessons and should play well in the various schools and learning institutions the company plans to bring the work to in the future. As Berger points out, it's important for all of us to stop and smell the flowers as it were. Those characters that take the time to see something more than just a piece of wood find themselves enriched. Perhaps just for a moment, but it's enough to light a part of them they've long forgotten. Those that don't just go on the way they are, which for some may be saddest epitaph of all.

 

Also very in good is the music (uncredited in the program), the lovely set by Michael Pasternack and the lighting by Barbara Parisi.

 

Box Score:

 

Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

 

Copyright 2007 by Judd Hollander

 

 

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