The tooth fairy and G.I. Joe are characters in this quirky little piece, written in the absurdist style reminiscent of Ionesco with hints of Beckett. That should tell you something. In some ways, the style is a departure for Rep Stage’s flair for the intellectual dramatic, a kind of thinking man’s theater, while in other ways, the fantastical element and the character’s dealing with grief and loss fit right in.
The basic storyline is about a couple dealing with the loss of their young son, Sam, who drowned in a lake during a summer vacation. Each parent copes by using a battery of self-selected drugs or behaviors of choice to dull the pain. Julie-Ann Elliott as Mel hasn’t met a pill she won’t try. Rows of empty pharmaceutical bottles even form part of the set filling in the interior wide expansive stairs lit from behind for a prominent effect. And although she tries desperately to hold onto sanity for the sake of her younger daughter, the odds don’t look good without serious intervention.
Paul Morella as her husband Ted heads to work and extended business trips, and office excursions, seeking diversions along the way to ease his pain. Anyplace else but home The play is anchored in the strong theatrical ability of these two incredible actors who work together with razor sharp precision spitting out words and phrases in carefully orchestrated verbal maneuvers that hinge on perfect timing and elocution. Schwartz is a word genius, and can cut up and disassemble well worn phrases into parts, and put them together like puzzle pieces that take you to a totally different place than where you started and where you thought you were headed. It’s quite a ride, and Rep Stage’s trust and commitment in the artist, along with Kazi Campbell’s exquisite and touching direction, make it work.
Fantasy whiplashes reality when make-believe characters come and go with little regard to the craziness of it all, starting with renown stage actress Barbara Rappaport wistfully playing the tooth fairy, complete with wings, colorful stockings and neon colored wig. With the tooth fairy setting the tone, then can G.I. Joe be far behind? Matthew Eisenberg’s Joe blusters in towards the end, maintains his frozen plastic stance throughout his scene, and stays true to his character as a loyal, trustworthy, diligent and ready for battle foot soldier. His image and steady, trusted presence, like the tooth fairy, represent the safe world that’s supposed to happen, where children play for hours at a time, and get money for their teeth, and never ever get hurt. Schwartz returns to this theme time and again, countering reality with fantasy with fantastical. The sweetly decorated child’s bed on the stage is a constant reminder of how it’s supposed to be despite the madness of reality that whirls around it.
God’s Ear is an acquired taste and is not for everyone. To see fine actors decomparmentalize their character’s lives into segmented phrases and momentary fragments, come within a breath of total breakdown, only to pull it all together, is like watching a high wire act performing without a net. Morella and Elliott make you feel and care for this couple dealing with grief beyond measure, who watch the flashing warning signs of their individual and collective unraveling, and pull out the best coping mechanisms they have at hand. Even with the antics of cartoon characters interacting on stage, the remaining core of unspoken grief courses through their veins. Whispering these matters in God’s ear, hasn’t helped much, but they keep going, and through it all, their daughter stuck with the aftershocks of the devastation, keeps popping along with hope and optimism for a better tomorrow. Schwartz seems to quietly hint that we can, too.
Written by Jenny Schwartz
Directed by Kasi Campbell
Produced by Rep Stage
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
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