BWW Reviews: OBLIVION in Westport
What happens when what you believe in no longer has any meaning for you? That is the problem that the four characters face in Carly Mensch's new play, Oblivion, which had its world premiere at the Westport Country Playhouse.
The play opens as Pam (JohAnna Day), a television producer, and Dixon (Reg Rogers), a corporate lawyer who recently had a nervous breakdown during a high profile case, are trying to convince their teenage daughter, Julie (Katie Broad), to tell them the truth about where she spent her weekend. The couple, who have always prided themselves on being permissive parents, thought she was on a college tour of Pam's alma mater. After talking to her best friend, Bernard (Aidan Kunze), Dixon discovers that she went to a Baptist church retreat in New Jersey.
What's so bad about their daughter's finding religion? In this case, it is a bit complicated. Dixon is a non-observant Jew and Pam is a second generation atheist. Both are wary of religion. Pam, especially, now feels that she failed as a parent because their only child believes that they don't have traditional values such as morals and ethics. Julie is looking for "feeling" and is convinced that accepting traditional Christianity will help her achieve that. Her best friend, Bernard, is a wannabee filmmaker who rejects his uneducated immigrant parents' goals for him to study technology and worships Pauline Kael, but doesn't even realize that the film critic has been dead for more than a decade.
The play, which was a First Look Production at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2011, is a play that is very powerful, but still a bit unpolished, especially its ending. Director Mark Brokaw and Obadhiah Eave's sound design and original music matched the playwright's energy scene-for-scene. Neil Patel's scenic design captures the elements of the characters. Gracefully arched windows have some panes that are stained in solid colors, but almost all have smudges, just as the über-cool couple has imperfections. Eight bookcases stand side-by-side like an all-knowing sentry against the high brick wall.
The play grabs the audience from the get-go, and Tara Rubin Casting's choice of actors is impeccable. Katie Broad is perfect as the tormented athlete who is trying to feel a connection that is hard for her to explain. She has a strong chemistry with JohAnna Day and Reg Rogers as her parents and with Aidan Kunze, the quiet student who can't find his place and is embarrassed by his parents' lack of education and understanding. Rogers is credible as a man who has spent months walking a tightrope between his career burnout and what his wife is supporting him to do -- writing a roman à clef about the legal system. Instead, he is writing fiction that she considers highly objectionable. Day shines as Pam, a woman who is shaken to the core when she realizes the seriousness of her daughter's interest in something she cannot fathom and her husband's deception.
A lot has been discussed about Julie's lie about the weekend she was supposedly touring a college, but that deception is not what this critic felt the play was really about. And the title is a bit problematic. The only character in the play that is oblivious is Bernard. Come on! Every high school student can get this information from the Internet, and yet he found an address where he can send her his black and white film - not even a DVD. (That said, Kunze makes his character oblivion almost work because he infuses Bernard with a studied quiet nature and awkwardness.) Pam is too busy to notice that her husband is not writing much, and certainly nothing of substance. Dixon seems very dexterous as getting what he wants out of people: his wife's financial support, his daughter's love and the information he needed from Bernard about Julie's whereabouts that weekend. Julie is hypersensitive to what she does feel - emptiness and rootlessness. She is oblivious to nothing.