To pair a play about 9/11 and a work by one of American dysfunctionalia’s virtuosos, Alan Ball, is unfashionably ponderous. Director Chandler Gregoire ’17 orchestrates the affair delicately and lets the audience glimpse what an undergraduate theater community is capable of.
We begin with David Rimmer’s piece about 9/11, “New York,” which takes place within a therapist’s office. It doesn’t beat around the bush: “planes were hitting buildings”; “people we knew. Our friends.” Zoe Huber-Weiss ’17 is a pilot in mourning, the first of four patients in treatment, struggling to regain normality. Her gesticulations are refined, she pauses well, but behind the line “somebody sticks his head in my cockpit, I will split it open” lies too little conviction. We believe her marital strife more than we believe her love of aviation, her jingoism.
The first piece ends with Gregoire, who both acts and directs, playing a woman confused. The recipient of a final phone call from within one of the towers, she cannot reason why. Her “why did she call me?” comes heavy and painful. She has a naturalism onstage, displaying the seriousness of terror’s impact, a perpetually displaced anger, an intransitive anxiety.
As we move into Ball’s play, the actresses come alive. Unsurprisingly, dissipation of relationships and Lena Dunham–esque pseudo-problems are more funny, believable, and easier than 9/11. The cues are furiously quick, the timing is sharp and the two southern accents are flawless. Gregoire gets the most out of Ball’s script; it oscillates between profundity and frivolity at a delightful pace. Southern accents, condoms, weed and wild swigs of wine yield to the portentousness of: “What goes through a man’s mind as he fucks his fiancée’s 12-year-old sister?” Gregoire is majestic in unveiling her character’s Secret From Her Past (“real soft, it was like a dream”). Her recounting of a nightmarish personal history calls to mind Blanche DuBois in its fragility.
In Ball’s play, we see the irrepressible vitality of Stefani Kuo ’17, her natural buoyancy a perfect fit for the role of capricious drunkard. In Rimmer’s play, she takes the role of sensitive detective with superfluous Weltschmerz. She lacks the gravity (when one watches Kuo, one notices myriad smiles, microlaughs and bounces in her step) for a character so world-weary. However, Kuo’s Falstaffian electricity is put to perfect use when she plays a sexually potent but dissatisfied Southern belle. “What do you want to look like?” asks Lexi Butler ’17. “A truckstop whore,” replies Kuo, in the evening’s punchiest cue.
Initially, the second showcase might appear to be a comic foil to the first, but this is not the case. The veneer of pleasant, inconsequential triviality subsides to reveal lingering tensions over religion and gender equality. “I’m a Christian” stops becoming a running gag and starts becoming a problem. Enter Will Viederman ’17. The charisma of Wiederman’s voice and his imposing physique disseminate throughout the stage, and his brief cameo is captivating. One longs to see him tackle a role in the earlier play.
The catharsis of a therapist’s office is beloved of modern American culture (cf. “Good Will Hunting,” “Ordinary People,” “The Sopranos,” Brooklyn’s most recent theatrical smash, “Borderline”). However, it takes a performance of true magnitude to create the iconic breakdown-and-cry-in-self-knowledge scene we all crave. Gregoire comes the closest, but falls slightly short.
Yet one must take stock of what “Four Girls in Search of a Part” is: an ingeniously edited, sincerely directed, and well-acted showcase whose tail end delivers a glorious punch that initially is wanting. Gregoire, the work’s mastermind, is to be applauded for taking up and executing with grace neither Rocky Horror Spandex nor Sondheim nor song and dance, but serious theater.