An Everyman undergoing an existential crisis climbs to a seventh-floor ledge and contemplates jumping. But before he can make up his mind, Venetian blinds begin opening onto seven different apartments, revealing the lives and characters within, and the Man is drawn into their dramas and absurdities. Though he knows no one in the building, he's given a drink and a cigarette, hectored, befriended, philosophized at, and accused of all kinds of complicities. Before you know it, nearly an hour and a half has gone by and our antihero is still perched on the ledge.
Will he jump in the end? I won't give that away. Though the play is nearly 20 years years old, and won awards in Vancouver BC, it's fairly obscure and most New York audiences won't know it. As realized by director Greg T. Parente and his Strain Theatre Company, with a skilled cast and crew, it's an entertaining piece of theater.
The denizens of the building, who appear through their narrow windows, are written as eccentric caricatures, not realistic characters. Crisply directed by Parente and played with wit and charm by the cast – each of whom, except for the Man (Erica Terpening-Romeo), plays at least two characters – they represent disparate human elements like religiosity, paranoia, duplicity, obsession, and the wisdom of old age.
The lesson the Man learns in the end results in an effective final set-piece of magic realism. But the lesson itself is conveyed verbally rather than dramatized, and that's the play's flaw; the manic scenes that make up the first two-thirds of the action don't lead, in any clear way, to what happens later.
The playwright, Morris Panych, has a great way with funny lines. "She doesn't actually want me to die," says the old lady of her fatalistic home care nurse, "because then she'd have to fill out a form." "The presence of Dacron," says the wife of the obsessive interior decorator, "gives him the flu."
More to the ultimate point, the old lady warns the Man against running "the risk of a protracted survival"; although she's philosophical and uncomplaining about her own confined life, she urges him to take the plunge. The message is about defying what we perceive as our fated path. Absurdism, like animation on TV, allows the writer to make a point in a way he couldn't otherwise, to make happen what could never "really" happen – with pleasing results.
Standout performances include that of the stunning Alice Kremelberg as the fetishistic Charlotte, and then, transformed by the mere donning of an old nightie, as the old lady. Thomas Patel does a remarkable job of motoring through his extended scene as the young psychiatrist Leonard, though the scene's too long nonetheless (through no fault of his). Toni-Ann Gardiner's nurse is hilarious. Really, the whole cast is quite good.
However, I wasn't delighted with the casting of a woman as the Man. It smacks of expedience rather than making any sort of statement, and while Terpening-Romeo shines during the character's climactic monologue, up until that point the casting against type proves a bit of a distraction. Dressed in an old-fashioned business suit, the Man is a descendant of a Magritte man, or Bartleby the Scrivener – someone adrift in his own questionable existence. That could be anybody, but, as written by Panych and indicated by the costuming, here it's the quintessential male office clerk/drone, lost without a sense of meaning.
You may not leave the theater enlightened, but odds are you'll have had a good time.