BWW Review: Book-Clubbing Twentysomethings Seek Their Defining Moments in Jack Thorne's SUNDAY
There are times, perhaps if you know someone studying theatre at a liberal arts college, when one may be invited to attend a student-written play about how hip it is to be culturally-aware twentysomething intellectuals struggling to make it in the big city. The kind of play where introverted women clash with men who give the appearance of being sensitive in order to get laid. They all drink lots of vodka while quoting books and plays and films that show off the playwright's varied points of reference more than offer any insights into character.
Oh yes, and there will be dance breaks.
And after enduring such a play, you may be introduced to the author, who you will sincerely congratulate for getting the piece up in front of an audience, and perhaps even suggest that the writing keenly hones into the issues and emotions faced by today's post-college generation as they venture out into the real world, because you're a kind soul who believes that every young artist must release what is in them in order to discover and refine their own true voice.
But when such a play, set in the current year, is produced by a major Off-Broadway company and is written by a forty-year-old who has both a Best Play Tony Award and the book to an infamously badly-written musical on his resume, you can be forgiven for holding back on kindness a bit.
In regards to Sunday, Atlantic Theater Company puts on their usual first class production, and director/choreographer Lee Sunday Evans and a fine ensemble cast make admirable efforts, but playwright Jack Thorne, whose current HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD and recent KING KONG are both cases where impressive spectacle overshadows not especially inspired writing, offers a dull script, detached from empathy, that struggles to stand on its own without the benefit of flashy design work. (An accomplished television and screenwriter, Thorne is quite a prolific playwright in his native England. Perhaps New York hasn't seen his best efforts yet. We'll get our next chance when his adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" arrives on Broadway in November.)
The title refers to the day of the week when a group of book club friends get together. Hosting chores this time go to roommates Marie (Sadie Scott) and Jill (Juliana Canfield). The wall of books that act as room divider in their apartment is not a symbolic gesture by set designer Brett J. Banakis. It's really a wall of books they've used to divide the space. "We call it sloppy chic," Jill quips.
Marie's plight is the focus of the play. Having suffered an early setback trying to establish a book publishing career while her roomie is advancing in the same field, those thoughts that maybe she's not made for New York start to creep in. Meanwhile, Jill's main concern is to make sure they have enough flavored vodka.
The guests include Alice (Ruby Frankel), who narrates and comments on the action from cubicles cut into the wall. Milo (Zane Pais), the only white male of the group, not only likes to bring up the topic of toxic masculinity, but eventually appears to be its poster boy. His buddy Keith (Christian Strange) seems like a nice fellow who goes along with Milo's bro antics to stay accepted.
The scheduled topic of discussion is Anne Tyler's "Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant," and though you may assume the author has parallels to draw between the 1982 novel and these young New Yorkers, for the amount of literary criticism explored the book of the week might as well be "Fun With Dick And Jane."
Peppered with quotes from MY FAIR LADY, "Goodfellas" and W. Somerset Maugham, the random conversation touches on topics of relationships and insecurities without going very much into depth, so the occasional sudden dance breaks don't interrupt any dramatic flow.
Sandwiching the club meeting are scenes between Marie and 37-year-old downstairs neighbor Bill (Maurice Jones), a quiet and seemingly responsible guy who's an aspiring writer. There is an attraction between them that, given she is just out of college, comes off as a bit creepy.
It's no spoiler to reveal that Alice's closing narration tells us how the characters spend the rest of their lives, focusing on what was their "defining moment." The polite applause at curtain call was perhaps the defining moment of this reviewer's experience at Sunday.