How will May 39th, 3009 be different from July 13, 2009? Well, for one thing, Al Gore will be dead, his 12th-generation clone having passed on May 38th. O.K., here’s another thing: women will rule the world. And here’s something else: war will become an institutionalized sport, like the NFL, and thus more bloodthirsty than ever before. In short, it won’t be that much different.
Oh – and everyone will be paid in Ringos, and it will cost thousands of them to buy an orange. That actually may be the scenario for July 13, 2010, and it is comforting, somehow, to see how well we have adjusted after the passage of a millennium.
But the subject of May 39th is the struggle of men and women to love each other, which playwright Callie Kimball identifies, with laserlike precision, as the struggle to move from whiny self-absorption to openness and other-directedness. In this matter particularly, things haven’t changed – they’ve just gotten more difficult. (Interestingly, psychologists W. Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge recently published a study suggesting that increasing narcissism has caused people to delay in forming relationships).
We begin on the morning of the 39th when Louisa (Lindsay Haynes) lies snoozing contentedly after a night of passion while her lover, Sam (James Finley) looks at her with a combination of amusement and awe. This, it soon becomes apparent, was their initial encounter, and had been fueled by the consumption of an impressive amount of DazzleTM. When Louisa wakes it is in the instantly-recognizable state of confusion common to those who have loved vigorously, and against all reason. As for Sam, his path has become remarkable lucid. He wants to marry Louisa, which is to say, he wants a purple exemption.
One of the merits of Kimball’s writing here is that she makes no effort to explain the developments of the prior thousand years, but allows her audience to draw their conclusions from context. As Louisa and Sam – both actors are excellent – do an intricate pas de deux in which they both reject each other and desire each other fiercely, Kimball does her own dance with the audience, doling out information in a way that never seems forced. This is familiar territory, of course, but Haynes and Finley make it fresh and raw, as it would be for Louisa and Sam.
There is a surprise ending. My fellow centenarians may recognize its antecedents in a routine by the great comedy team of Burns and Schreiber, but this does not at all diminish the pleasure of its expression, or the shock of recognition as we realize how hard satisfaction is to obtain.
The newly-written May 40th is a sort of coda, in which Jim (Finley) and Roya (Haynes) show us the fate of a couple so emboldened by their own feelings as to apply for, and receive, a purple exemption. It does not end up happily. The play raises some provocative questions about identity and personality which I would have enjoyed seeing treated at greater length in an independent production.
Typically, writers add to a script when they believe they need to clarify their point. For example, when Lorraine Hansberry concluded that audiences didn’t understand the risk the Younger family was taking in moving into an all-white enclave in Raisin in the Sun, she added a scene with the buttinsky upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, who rattled through the most recent series of bombings and murders done in response to such bold moves. Here, however, May 39th is pellucid in and of itself, and satisfying. It needs no additional explication.
Having said that, I should note that Haynes and Finley are again absolutely convincing, fully detailed characters and there is not a moment of contrivance or artificiality between them. For that we should credit Director Christy Denny, as well as the playwright and actors.
Intelligent dialogue, provocative thinking, authentic characters, freedom from artificiality – whatever did we do to induce such a playwright to leave DC and go to New York City? Whatever it was, we should stop it right now.
By Callie Kimball
Directed by Christy Denny
Produced by 11:11 Productions
Reviewed by Tim Treanor