A wrenching argument, erupting from the escalating conflict between two former lovers, is the defining moment of “We Need to Talk.”
Playing at the Off-Broadway Theater this week, “Talk” — co-directed and co-produced by Donnell ’08 and Rhasaan Nichols ’08 — is a moving, if melodramatic portrayal of a couple’s attempt to make their relationship survive in spite of their separation. Even though the dialogue is at times too literary to be conversational, the intense acting and passion of the main characters continue to drive the play forward, provide humor in some sticky situations and carry the audience along the emotional ride on which the characters embark.
The play follows the dying relationship of Sean, played by Rashaud Hannah ’08, a Yalie, and Nicole, his girlfriend at Harvard played by Naomi Bland ’10. Set in this atmosphere of opposites, the characters are challenged when Nicole discovers she is pregnant — by him, obviously. The plot unfolds during a sequence of scenes alternating between Sean and Nicole’s lives, with some overlapping interludes to give a real-time sense to the action.
The play’s physical backdrop, designed by Sylvia Bingham ’09, reflects, if not pounds into the ground, the difficulties the characters face in the plot. The well-conceived set — one part two depressing, lonely dorm rooms and one part high school scrapbook — reflects the over arching theme of the story: Sean’s indifference towards his relationship, which in turn drives Nicole’s insecurity.
Obviously depicting the sharply contrasted natures of the two main characters, the words ‘insecurity’ and ‘indifference’ are superimposed on hanging pictures on the Harvard and Yale side of the stage, respectively.
The set is divided directly down the center with an ornate wrought iron fence adorned with the remnants of high school usually found on a forgotten bulletin board: a basketball t-shirt, some dried flowers, a teddy bear. On either side of the divide is a dorm room, each proudly displaying either Harvard crimson or Bulldog blue. This Ivy divide is further highlighted in the development of Nicole’s costumes; as she grows more distant from Sean, for example, she sheds his hand-me-down Yale sweatshirt and dons more assured, independent attire. The lighting of the set, controlled by Davita Scarlett ’10, also emphasizes that chasm by only illuminating one half of the stage at a time.
The inability of the characters to let go of the past and their relationship propels the plot. Their futures center in their respective rooms, while their past lies in the middle divide. As the plot comes to its emotional climax, the two worlds collide as Sean intrudes on Nicole’s space. The tension of their encounter is such that even though they are in the same room, they face away from each other. The psychological divide between them is enough, even in the absence of the physical barrier.
The dialogue is extremely powerful at times of conflict or heightened emotion in the characters, invoking sadness or compassion from the audience. But when the characters are speaking in everyday conversation, the language seemed better suited for the page.
Further hindering the full humanity of their portrayals, Sean and Nicole’s characters develop only in relation to each other. Even if something is divulged about one of their personalities, it is only used in the context of their romance. The supporting actors fill out the show well, with the strongest performances given by Danielle Cooper ’10 as Ashley and Travis Long ’10 as Craig. Unfortunately they factor little into the central axis of the action.
But overall this production succeeds in being both gripping and thought-provoking. The opening scene, a rhythm poem, spoken at center stage, is particularly moving as it foreshadows the plot to come.
“If one half loses, can the other really win?”