The Theatreguide.London Review
Print Room Spring 2013
A young man rides his bicycle across the width of America and arrives at his grandmother's New York City apartment at 3:00 AM.
After some initial confusion they begin the process of bonding, fuelled at first by their real affection for each other and by their shared feelings toward their natural mutual foe, his mother, and then expanding to recognising a sympathy between her lifelong Socialist activism and his somewhat callow hippie-ish idealism.
Some things happen and then he prepares to leave.
The play has all the earmarks of a young male writer's obligatory first autobiographical novel. The characters and conversations ring absolutely true, and you believe they actually happened exactly that way in real life.
But – and not at all surprisingly in that first novel – they haven't been shaped into art. This slice of life has no clear shape, no dramatic spine, no forward momentum, no point.
Now, what is really remarkable is that this is not the first work of a young male writer, but of an experienced female playwright, Amy Herzog, and that makes both its successes and its failures all the more surprising.
It is indeed an accomplishment of imagination for Herzog to put herself so thoroughly within the mind of her young hero that he and the entire world around him ring so true.
And it is equally remarkable that despite her artistic distance she was unable to give a clearer shape, through-line and meaning to what plays like a string of random and purposeless anecdotes.
The play meanders through digressions and abortive subplots in no clear order and with no clear purpose. Why, for example, does the young man have a Chinese adopted sister? Why are we told in the last seconds of the play that the grandmother's neighbour is good at growing plants?
We are told that the recent death of his best friend was a major trauma for the youth, but he appears unchanged from how he is described as being before the event. And after ninety minutes the play just stops – not finishes, just stops, virtually in mid-sentence – so that the audience is surprised to find the actors (There are four in all ) lining up for their curtain calls.
Perhaps a stronger production could have given shape to this material or found a shape hidden in it. But director James Dacre seems to have had no clear vision for the play and to have left his actors without much guidance so that even an ever-reliable veteran like Sara Kestelman appears lost.
You may well feel like you're watching an early rehearsal, when most of the lines have been learned and some of the movements plotted out but much is left to be done, most especially the actors' discovery of who their characters are, what they want and why they are in this room saying and doing these things.
There are times in the course of the evening when you are likely to feel more sympathy toward the floundering actors than the characters they play.
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