I like Adam Rapp’s mind. It wanders into the oddest places and makes a home for itself there. He likes to put people in small containers within a larger world. Apartments, tiny kitchens, bunkers, hotel rooms. Then he leaves them there as if it were a diorama. Contained chaos. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. This is a case of the latter.
In Kindness we meet Dennis and Maryanne, teenager and mother, who are visiting New York to see the musical Survivin’ which, from the description, is Rent. The mother is dying. This is her last stop before Hospice. Her son, in a petulant blow, refuses to go to the theater. He would rather stay back at the hotel and masturbate. So Mom is off to the theater with the cabbie she just met, and by God they are going to have a good time even if some other people are contrary and ungrateful.
After she leaves, Dennis needs a drink, so back and forth to the vending machine he goes, each time letting the hotel door swing closed on its own, which is slowly. On the final pass of the door a beautiful, lithe woman in a flowing designer outfit slips through it, much like Peter Pan. Only this lovely lady isn’t looking for her shadow, but for something deeper and darker. We don’t know what exactly, and we don’t find out much over the next hour or so, but there is a creepy feeling in the air as if the hotel might have been uprooted and plonked back down on another planet.
We watch Dennis and the woman, Frances, strike up an alliance based on nothing more than hunches. It’s like an odd game of checkers, with moves that surprise not only the players but the onlookers. They talk about sex, life, murder, dying, dreams, and daring to name just a few subjects. Neither seems to know where the boundaries are. Each is testing and teasing the other. It is an intriguing first act.
Unfortunately it is followed by the second, which feels as though it were written by someone else – plodding, uneventful and filled with exposition. Frances returns to the hotel room in street clothes to confess her dark secret. Mom arrives back from the theater with the taxi driver in tow, and, well, everyone STANDS around talking. They stand and stand while the mother gives the musical a rave review and the chick the third degree. The taxi driver goes out for Chinese food and Frances leaves but not before stealing some money and the cab driver returns and the Mom faints because the cancer is getting bad so the cab driver leaves and Dennis gives Mom some pain pills and tucks her into bed because she is in so much pain and he sits with her until she falls asleep and then he has a moment when he thinks about killing her to put her out of her misery the end.
All the momentum of the first act swirls right down the drain. The actors – and they are a pretty good bunch, especially Christopher Denham (Dennis) who though definitely no teenager is an arresting presence onstage – can do nothing to stop the demise. It’s a little like watching the stock market trajectory on October 15th. No fun. No logic. And definitely no kindness.
Kindness written and directed by Adam Rapp
WITH: Christopher Denham (Dennis), Annette O’Toole (Maryanne), Ray Anthony Thomas (Herman) and Katherine Waterston (Frances).
Sets by Lauren Helpern; costumes by Daphne Javitch; lighting by Mary Louise Geiger; sound by Eric Shim; production manager, Shannon Nicole Case; production stage manager, Richard A. Hodge. Presented by Playwrights Horizons. Tim Sanford, artistic director. At the Peter J. Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, Clinton, (212) 279-4200. Through Nov. 2. Running time: 2 hours.