Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Small Fire

Adam Bock's new play, A Small Fire, is a solid, well-acted family drama but it leaves you asking more questions than were answered as you exit the theater.  When someone starts to lose their senses - not the mental kind - i mean the actual ones - smell, taste, vision, and hearing - something is wrong.  Very wrong.  Yet we never hear more than one passing reference to a visit to the doctor!  A play that centers around a woman losing all these abilities needs to provide some sort of medical explanation. Perhaps Mr. Bock's intent was to focus on the family drama and not the medical - and I applaud him for that - but some sort of cause or possible explanation should have been at least a small part of this story.

As for the actors, although the play centers around Emily Bridges, (Michele Pawk), this play is Reed Birney's (her husband, John Bridges) to steel and he's done just that.  It's role reversal at its best.  Emily, a tough, hard as nails woman, owns and operates a construction company and seems more at ease with the boys at the site than with her own family, household chores, and femininity in general.   John is more of a homebody - a caring, meek and dependent sort of fellow.  Birney's finesse of the tender moments was sublime.  As his wife is losing her senses one at a time, he finds himself even more dedicated to her - despite the fact that if all this were not happening their marriage may have fallen apart.  Their daughter, Jenny, (Celia Keenan-Bolger), clearly emotionally damaged by the lack of motherly love over the years, is, expectedly, distant and detached.  Ms. Bolger isn't given very much to do or say but it's clear where she stands as she's about to get married and start a life of her own.  Birney's emotional description of the wedding reception scene to his wife (at that point blind) was one of the most poignant scenes in the entire play.  Overall, Ms. Pawk seemed to be a bit lost with character, but gave it her all.

On a disappointing note, Billy Fontaine's (Victor Wiliams) reason for his unwavering support for his boss, Emily, was a complete distraction.  Mr. Bock, not every play needs to have a gay sub-plot - and certainly there was a less distracting way to convey Billy's unwavering support without bringing up AIDS (and pigeons!).   And while I understand the meaning of the ending of the play (she may have lost all her senses, but she can still feel) - did we really need to see such a gratuitous sex?  In this case, less would have been more.

From a production stand-point - I have to point out the extremely well thought-out, unobtrusive and well placed sound and lighting effects.  I don't often point these more technical aspect out (or even notice them), but in this case, they added the perfect emphasis time and time again.  I assume this credit must go to David Weiner and Robert Kaplowitz.

While Mr. Bock's script may not dazzle, the acting in this 90 minute drama is top notch and well worth the price of an off-Broadway ticket over at Playwrights Horizons MainStage.