The young and the empty


By Jeff Tabnick
Directed by Meghan Beals
Propinquity Productions
Flatiron Playhouse
Non-union production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

When a guy wants to prove to a girl that love actually exists, it's usually just a way for him to get laid. Not so for Charlie (Jonathan Todd Ross), a hopeless romantic -- emphasis on hopeless. Charlie isn't really the center of Jeff Tabnick's 68, but neither are Garret (Corey Patrick), who seems to exist to give other people a hard time, or Daphne (Tonya Lester), who's so bored with life that she's aching for ways to fill the 68 hours of the week that aren't taken up by work or sleep. No, the play seems to be about double- and triple-dealing among this trio of uninteresting New Yorkers. But Charlie was at least played with self-effacing charm by Ross, which almost hid the fact that the character was as much a jerk as the others. Almost. Charlie's a schlub, but at least Ross got his laughs.

These three are old friends, now reunited, but time and distance haven't taught them anything. Daphne's back in New York, living in what doesn't even begin to look like "the worst air-conditioned building in New York" (set design by David Rigler). Charlie wants to prove to Daphne that love exists, Daphne is just as adamant to prove it does not. But Daphne has also had on-and-off relationship with Garret, and he's been in the other room the whole time she and Charlie have been talking about love. Fair enough as a set up, but all that happens is a lot of chasing tails.

To be fair, the three acted their hearts out, as if their characters represented more than just the angst of 29-year-olds. Patrick and Lester talked at each other as if Garret and Daphne were sympathetic (or believable), while plot points that might have explained character weren't as thoroughly explored. Daphne, you see, does government work for Boeing and needs a security reference. Garret is called by the Feds to provide it. What Garret does is revealed, but far more time is spent on an impossible subplot involving Jenna (Talia Rubel), a stripper he married. It was probably meant to be comic, but the scene where Daphne and Jenna talked about sex while Garret and Charlie talked about The Simpsons just lay there. The "meaning" was obvious; the interest was nil. And the more interesting points were ignored.

And what's Daphne's problem? It sure would be nice to know why she's so cold, twisted, and borderline psychotic, but Lester was left to flop around, acting like Rosalind Russell one minute and struggling with a line like "Love is lust coupled with weakness" the next. There's no reason a story about obnoxious and unpleasant people can't be entertaining and interesting, but a play is in serious trouble when the presence of a flat screen TV on the ceiling gets big laughs, as did an off-stage rooster and screaming crazy guy.

Director Meghan Beals probably did as well as possible given the uphill struggle. A tiny bit of emotion showed through when Daphne offered Charlie half a loaf -- her presence, if not her whole being. This is the story of Charlie's life, and he's willing to settle, as usual. But then there are more plot twists, with the only surprising thing being that Tabnick would trot out hoary old gimmicks that went out with the plays of Clyde Fitch.

Lighting (Thom Weaver) was unobtrusive, and the sound (uncredited) provided what sounded like Lou Reed intoning "Life is hard and so am I." Oh.

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler