- by David Adjmi
- Directed by Anne Kauffman
- Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
- Reviewed by guest reviewer Joy Jones
I was hyped when I heard about the plot for Stunning. Here it comes, I thought, one of Woolly’s trademark edgy and unconventional plays that is disturbing in a good way. It’s described as a story about a young woman, cloistered in her Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY, who gets exposed to new ideas and challenging realities when an African American maid comes to work for her. The synopsis was like the savory smell of a spicy dish I couldn’t wait to sample.
Instead, I got cartoon characters, dead-end plot twists and a disappointing ending. This was a case where the menu was more appetizing than the meal.The Syrian-Jewish residents of New York are insular to the extreme. There is an edict that makes intermarriage utterly taboo – even converts and their children are not accepted as members of the tribe. So what would happen if someone decided to challenge those strictures?
Stunning’s protagonist, Lily, appears as if she might attempt that, but that story doesn’t get told in its fullest intensity. Lily got tricked into marriage at age sixteen, has a lesbian affair, steals from her husband who is failing in business – all things that could stir the pot something fierce – but somehow it doesn’t build to an exciting boil. Blanche, the African American maid who pulls Lily into turmoil, has a mysterious past. Blanche presents herself as a Ph.D and has the vocabulary and highbrow reading habits to back it up – yet she works as a domestic. It would be intriguing to get the backstory on that – but no, we don’t get much detail on that story, either. Blanche and Lily’s husband hate each other’s guts – and they do have a fight, yet it doesn’t ring true.
Playwright David Adjmi does not fully explore the psychology of any of these kinks or curiosities in his characters. The personalities of the play were too simplified and exaggerated for me to make an emotional connection with them. There were funny moments and harsh confrontations but they weren’t wielded in a way that made me care. I have seen sitcom characters drawn with more depth and less predictability, and TV movies that had much more thoughtfully rendered and deliciously twisted plots.
The actors, however, are talented. Despite the pallid flavor of the script, Laura Heisler and Quincy Tyler Berstine have considerable comic presence.
It seems Adjmi had compelling threads of plot and story from which he shrank back from giving full expression. Perhaps as a member of the Syrian-Jewish community, he is too close to the culture to be able to step back and connect the dots for a more layered and thorough treatment. All the ingredients were present but the dish never quite gelled.
Stunning left me starving for something more.
- When: Thru April 6
- Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
- Tickets: $24-57
- Info: 202-383-3939 or http://www.woollymammoth.net/
– Joy Jones is a poet, playwright and educator. She is author of ‘Tambourine Moon’ and ‘Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers’. Her latest play, In Search of Tonto Goldstein, co-authored with Linda Hopper, opens March 31st in New York as part of the Femme-tastic play festival