Saturday, June 23, 2012

This Is Fiction

The InViolet Rep is presenting a little gem of a play down at the Cherry Lane. It's called This Is Fiction, and it's written by Megan Hart and directed by Shelley Butler. It's not a perfect gem; it could use a little polishing. But it's a damn good play in a damn good production.

Aubyn Philabaum, Michelle David
Photo: Jason White
The plot echos two recent shows. A grown daughter comes home with the announcement that she has written/is writing a piece about the family. In the still-running Miracle on South Division Street, it's a one-woman show. In the recently shuttered Other Desert Cities, it's a memoir. In This If Fiction, it's a novel, an important difference. As Amy (the excellent, quietly intense Aubyn Philabaum) points out, and as the title of the play reiterates, her version is fiction. (The choice to name the play itself This Is Fiction is intriguing. Is that a message to some of Hart's own family members?)

Another difference is that the story she's writing is nothing out of the ordinary--no big reveals, no shocking secrets, just her version of growing up in a flawed family with moments of love, neglect, and high drama. But her father (the touching Richard Masur), who is ill, and her sister Celia, who takes care of him, don't want their story shared with the entire world--even a fictionalized version.

Hart offers us a quietly realistic depiction of real people struggling with real people's problems. Her play is full of recognizable moments, as when the family's response to the lack of "dumpling sauce" with take-out dumplings offers a glance at simmering resentments and long-established allegiances. And she chooses no favorites; each daughter has a legitimate ax to grind, and the father's refusal to grind axes is also legitimate.

Hart's dialogue is a nice mix of lyrical and natural, with the lyrical moments never going beyond the language each character would know and use. (Example: "But did you really have to use me as your buffer? Or--not even a buffer--more like one of those blow-up bumpers that line the gutters at a bowling alley--yeah. You know--just the thing you bounce off of on your way to wherever you're trying to get.) Much of her writing is funny, though always with an underlying poignancy. In one exchange that stands out for me, Amy says to Celia, "I hate you." And Celia responds, "That’s not true. And the feeling's mutual."

The show loses its way a bit in some of the sisters' discussions, which occasionally get a little repetitive. And the breaks between scenes take too long. (This seems to be a new theatrical style, and it's consistently annoying. One director explained to me that she wanted to give the audience time to think, but all we're thinking is, get back to the play!) The bookstore could be suggested with far less scenery, and the passage of time could be shown much more efficiently. Also, it's not always clear which parts of the scene changes are and aren't meant to reflect the reality of the play. (If Amy and the father really left the cleaning up of dinner for Celia, Celia would have every right to murder them both--and would be let off by a jury of her peers.)

Michele David does full justice to Celia's anger and complexity. Bernardo Cubría is charming as Amy's potential boyfriend. Leon Rothenberg's original music is nice, but scene changes shouldn't be extended to match its length. Ashley Gardner's costumes add much to our understanding of the characters.

This Is Fiction is small and sensitive and true and ultimately more affecting than most of the plays that have made it to Broadway in the past few years.

(press ticket; second row on the aisle)

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