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Umbrella: Come Rain or Come Whine

A lot of people just can't handle The Big City.  They feel assaulted and beaten by The City's concrete and clay, by the noise and the hustle, and especially by the way City people avoid connection.  L. Pontius' play Umbrella takes a long hard look at two people who have finally had enough but can't figure out how to go about fixing things.

Helen (Christa Kimlicko Jones) awakens on a rooftop, watched by Frank (Judson Jones).  She'd had a meltdown and was reportedly screaming on the street, and he carried her up the 10 flights to his sanctuary.  From the rooftop he can see a nearby park, he feels above the noise and the violence and he can smoke.  He has a folding chair and an umbrella, and that's all he needs.  Helen is resistant at first, but as they begin to share Frank's pack of cigarettes, they talk and begin to understand each other, despite inflicting pain with each word they say.

Pontius firmly establishes the characters' sadomasochistic relationship to each other, the city, and themselves.  They chain smoke (giving momentary pleasure in trade for eventual disease); Helen cuts herself so she can at least understand where her pain is coming from; and even though they're both deeply unhappy and lonely, they won't leave the city they hate because they feel like they have to love it there.  Frank won't live his own life, obsessed with a happy couple through whose windows he peers.  An elusive vision of a more pastoral life is briefly shared by the two, but the American Idyll is eventually rejected in favor of a nihilistic Fight Club idea of cleansing destruction. 

Though depressing, the script has a lot to say about urban angst, and the characters are dispiritingly believable, though sometimes the language suffers from melodramatic and distractingly overt symbolism ("I eat brick" "I am inertia").  The City is never named (presumably to give a universal appeal), but details indicate the park they can see is Washington Square Park (and really, where else could this be but Manhattan?).

The two actors are wonderful.  Christa Kimlicko Jones embodies every sad hipster who wishes the city was more forgiving.  Even when silent, she speaks volumes.  Judson Jones plays a wonderful nebbish who expected something more than pushing paper; his little tics are a delight to watch as he attempts a connection with someone as emotionally bruised as he.

Padraic Lillis directs with a firm hand, every moment is clear and concise.

Set and costumes by Lea Umberger are exquisite.  Her startlingly realistic rooftop is beautifully set off by an impressionistic riot of windows. And bravo to her for making it rain on an off-off-Broadway stage. The costumes are all in shades of grey to indicate the character's ghostly desperation. 

Sound by Jill BC Du Boff is also fantastic- giving the ambient noise of a city, with occasional car honks and thunder to set off certain moments.

Umbrella

Theatre Row's Kirk Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
(between 9th & 10th Avenues)

April 11 through  4 May 2008
Tue - Sat 8pm, Mat: Sun 2pm

Price $35
For tickets call: 212-279-4200



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