A relationship enduring a painful end launches Dave Chapman’s Over. But the breakup of 20-somethings Jack (Adam Belvo) and Nicole (Alisha Spielmann) soon enough settles into the background as a much more unexpected storyline overlays it, unfolding at a slow but sustained pace that makes this four-character two-hour-20-minute play seem to go by quickly.
Directed by Bryan Enk for KRM Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, Over begins fitfully in Nicole’s apartment, where, shortly before the action begins, Jack has announced to Nicole that he is leaving her. Shriveled inertly on her couch, she’s had time to use up a whole box of tissues but not to stop sobbing. Jack tries to be sensitive but everything he says just makes it worse.
This opening sequence establishes Chapman’s skill at reality-based dialogue. It’s undermined, though, by the characters calling each other by their names far too often, which detracts from the naturalism the actors work hard to sustain.
After Nicole’s teenage sister Tabitha (Becky Byers) arrives unexpectedly and the story veers toward the eerie and perplexing, the dialogue gets tauter, the rhythm deepens, and the stellar performances of Spielmann and Byers as the sisters come to the forefront and carry the drama to its Twilight Zone-esque conclusion.
Belvo tries without success to make Jack likable, but conveys well the frustration of one who is leaving, and hurting someone badly, but feeling guilty about it. Neighbor Spence’s (Brian Silliman) humor and humility provide important focal points as well as effective comic relief.
But the play really belongs to its women, and the production to Spielmann and Byers, who appeared together recently in Flux Theatre Ensemble’s ambitious and scrappy Jane the Plain.
With crisis piling on crisis, Nicole ends up showing that beneath all her weepiness lies a fundamental human durability. Her speech about what made her fall for Jack in the first place is so convincing it set aside my negative impressions of his character. And the ultimate hash-out of what went wrong with their relationship makes up for the script flaws I observed in the opening scene.
With her usual sharp charm Byers delivers Tabitha’s intermittent comic business, as when she gets possessive over a granola snack Terence has kindly offered her. Later, Tabitha’s revelation of the motivation behind her self-destructive behavior is a gem of a sequence.
And finally, the playwright doesn’t take an easy way out of the twisted situation he creates (which I won’t give away).
Despite some flaws, Over is a serious, mature work that deserves attention. Because it’s relatively long and relatively “normal” it hasn’t got the buzz of some of the hipper productions at this year’s NYC Fringe, but it deserves some love. Two performances remain. Visit FringeNYC.org for details and tickets.