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Conversations with My Wife

a World Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Leonard Gross

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 3831

SHOWING : September 29, 2010 - October 31, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A well-known author battling with the grief of losing his wife has a conversation that allows him to begin the next chapter. A moving, funny and tenderly human love story. A world premiere. Recommended for age 16 and up.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Heidi Cline
Scenic Designer John Thigpen
Sara Judy Leavell
Sam John Stephens
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Shallow Platitudes
by Dedalus
Thursday, October 14, 2010
2.5
In Leonard Gross’s “Conversations with My Wife,” a grieving widower walks about his apartment, trying to put together the pieces of his broken life, mumbling to himself about his loss. Soon, he is joined by his dead wife. What follows is a 90-minute dialogue that boils down to his “I don’t want to go on” and her “You must go on.” Rather than a moving examination of grief and its consequences, we’re asked to endure a seemingly unending series of shallow platitudes that go no deeper than a grief counselor’s first-visit playbook.

To be honest, I feel a bit churlish in so dismissing this piece. After all, the author spent more than a couple years on it following the death of his own wife, trying to come to terms with his own loss, trying to honor the memory of his wife. I certainly do not want to diminish his loss or the memory of his wife. Unfortunately, the play he has written fails utterly at making us share his sorrow, fails at letting us see below the service of these two characters. We’re told so little about them that they could be anyone at anytime. It may be he is still too close to the subject, too concerned with making the characters true to their real-life inspirations, too familiar with the thousand little details that go into creating believable characters to actual share enough information to bring us into his world. This play comes across, in spite of the time spent creating it, as a first draft “let me get my feelings on the table first” piece of indulgence that may benefit from an outsider’s helping hand.

It doesn’t help that he has set up a pseudo-ghost story, a contrived construct with its own arbitrary rules that undercut our empathic response. For example, at one point, the characters do a slow dance without touching that comes across as more awkward than sadly moving. This is because he already established that the two can see each other and hear each other, that the “spirit” of the wife can touch objects (even pick them up) and sit in furniture. There’s no reason at all she shouldn’t be able to touch him beyond the contrivance of a dance in which they are “almost” touching.

It also doesn’t help that we get very few stories about their life together, beyond the last tragic moments of her illness. We hear talk of children and family, but little else. We hear nothing of their meeting, their experiences and trials as a couple, or any highs or lows of their marriage. We learn little about either of them beyond the fact that he is a writer and he misses her. Even the skylines outside the beautifully rendered apartment set are generic and not recognizable as being part of a pecific city.

It also doesn’t help that the play starts out as a lengthy monologue with none of the “break the fourth wall” conventions of one-character plays. We see the writer (“Sam Green”) simply puttering around the set, talking to himself about little of relevance. This keeps us at arms lengths, keeps us from the outset from entering into his world, his mind, his sorrow.

It also doesn’t help that the entire play is set on an even emotional keel. There is no variance in emotional intensity and little variance in pitch and volume. This made for a very dry, again very uninvolving exercise. A few lightly rueful moments provide a smile or two, but nothing compelling or memorable.

At a production level, actors John Stephens and Judy Leavell do what they can and provide the play with a few moments of spark, but they seem bewildered by the banality of most of the dialogue, by the shallowness of most of the sentiments. Ms. Leavell slightly underplays and Mr. Stephen slightly overplays, making it seem as if they are indeed in different worlds, different plays. The set is a beautiful big-city corner apartment that both characters seem at home in, though I was puzzled by the blank screens that hold projected paintings before and after the play. What’s the point of blank spaces, unless it was to show a taste for modern white-or-white minimalist art? And if that’s the case, why project actual paintings for the pre- and post-show moments?

Grief can be exceedingly moving and complex. Loss and grief and guilt (“Why did I leave that argument unresolved?”) and anger (“How can she do that to me?”) and, of course, sadness and sorrow. Watching “Conversations with My Wife” is far too much like watching someone too afraid to share that complexity with us, too satisfied to leave us with “Oh isn’t it sad, now let me move on” sentimentality.

This, in my probably-too-cruel opinion, does a disservice to the playwright’s loss, to the memory of his wife. I was left with the distinct impression he was more interested in venting his sadness than with actually allowing us to get to know his wife and why her loss caused such sadness. I was left with the distinct impression that he is still hiding too many scars to create a truly compelling memorial. I was left with the distinct impression that he found safe haven behind greeting-card dialogue than with having his characters speak from the heart.

I can only hope the writing of this piece led to some healing, and that, eventually, he can return to this and rewrite with a better dramaturgical eye and ear.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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