Fresh from the 2005 NYC Fringe Festival, an international arts festival that has over 200 plays go up all over New York in August, “The Metaphysics of Breakfast” comes to New Haven for encore performances this weekend only.
Written and directed by theater studies major Eli Clark ’07, “Metaphysics” follows reality intersected with the cyclical memories of April (Tara Rodman ’07), a 20-something mourning the sudden loss of her husband. In her struggle to remember him, April confronts memories of her family and her childhood while attempting to break free from her past.
The brief one act, one-hour play begins with a serenade of kitchen noises, orchestrated by Julia Meinwald ’05, to match the silhouettes that form the backdrop of the set, designed by Patrick Huguenin ’07.
An artfully combined set of pots, pans and a spatula form a sort of chandelier in a brilliant piece of set design that serves to anchor the action around — what else — breakfast. The remnants of many breakfasts, including a box of classic Cheerios, clutter the table and serve as a visual representation for the state of the main character’s mind. Although the sound works beautifully in the beginning, it is under-utilized throughout the rest of the action, where it could unite the sometimes-wandering action.
We are told few things about Steve, April’s deceased husband. The first is the starting line of the play: “He smells like basements.”
Clark enjoys the senses, making frequent use of them to add texture and anchor the memories. Although the movement of the play feels staged, it paints a vivid picture of the intense effects of remembrance and mourning. The rapid-fire succession of vignettes manages to engage without consistent plot or character arcs.
Utilizing frequent direct acknowledgement of the audience, Clark drifts into meta-theater frequently but inconsistently.
When April’s parents try to talk about Steve, she tells them, “We’re not talking about this now; we’re in the middle of a memory.” When April asks the audience later if they are enjoying her monologue, the near constant self-references and freezing action begin to feel a little forced.
“Metaphysics” flows better when it sticks to the frivolous absurdity of its situation. April describes her reaction to a pre-prom date rape discussion as feeling that she could “explode into spontaneous sex at any moment.” This ribald humor that boldly stares at the niceties and contradictions of life gives “The Metaphysics of Breakfast” its moments of flight.
This may be one of the few non-musical plays you will see with a credited choreographer, Natalia Duncan ’06, whose dances add spice to the action. The costumes (Anastatia Curley ’07) fit the characters well, with sequins for the aging figure-skater and a sweater vest for the intellectual.
An able cast keeps the play moving with the help of a few useful visual aids. Chad Callaghan ’07 has the most fun playing April’s friend Mark, among other characters. His impersonations of April’s ex-boyfriends are particularly enjoyable. Jana Sikdar ’06 and Stefano Theodoli-Braschi ’07, as Mom and Dad respectively, play fun if often flat characters with charm. Lila Neugebauer ’07 does a workman-like job as the crotchety Christian granny and the rest of her roulette of characters, including Jen, Mark’s off-and-on partner
However, the action primarily revolves around Rodman as April. While her line readings can get a little repetitive, she brings a thoughtful tenderness to the confusion and frustration of her character.
“Metaphysics” does not take place in reality; the acting is not naturalistic, nor is it intended to be. Like Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie,” it is a memory play. But unlike Williams, Clark does not aspire to grand drama, she only wishes to follow her characters’ dips in and out of memory and try to follow one woman’s exploration of her family, childhood and the absurdity of life. Like the “NASA” pillows that “keep the shape of you in their memory,” the play serves to showcase the forms of childhood and adolescence upon which each of us builds our lives.
But unlike the American modernist playwrights before her, Clark’s shapes aren’t those of alcoholism, abuse or any other subject fit for Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. These are the shapes of a feminist philosopher father, a figure-skater mother, and a late husband obsessed with Woody Allen.
This snippet of play is light material composed by a gifted and promising –though inexperienced — playwright. For the theater-goer armed with a little patience and an open mind, taking the journey though “The Metaphysics of Breakfast” is worth a slim hour of weekend and serves as a gentle reintroduction to the joys of Yale theater.