Words communicate and conceal, profane and protect. After Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear has flowed from Available Light Theatre's lips to the audience's ears, after its words have done all that and more, the enthralled observer will finally lean back and wonder how it was done.
Words communicate and conceal, profane and protect.
After Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear has flowed from Available Light Theatre's lips to the audience's ears, after its words have done all that and more, the enthralled observer will finally lean back and wonder how it was done.
How did Schwartz write a play about the death of a child and its effects on the surviving family members and make it both searingly painful and frequently laugh-out-loud funny?
How did Schwartz build this play largely out of cliches and non-sequiturs, usually avoiding its overt subject yet still delving into its emotional impact?
The play plunges right into things. Mel (Michelle Schroeder) and Ted (Richard Furlong) stand in the hospital. She tries to explain to him what the doctors have just told her about their dying son Sam.
"He's in a coma." "He's on a respirator." Did the doctors call something "critical" or "crucial"?
Schroeder, always an incredible in-the-moment actor, has perhaps never been as heartbreakingly there as she is here. You watch her coming to terms with what's happening, one word at a time.
Ted comes to terms in his own way. He wanders from his home, traveling to meetings. And he wanders from his marriage, meeting seductive strangers in airport bars.
He eventually reconnects through their young, surviving daughter Lanie. When they reunite toward the end, she says that he's shrunk, and he says that she's grown. Both true, and each a matter of perspective.
Furlong simmers persuasively as Ted's perspective evolves. Adult Kate Watts conveys the impatience and inquisitiveness of six-year-old Lanie with studied body language, including a particularly restless leg, and a child's cadences.
The cadences and rhythms of Schwartz's dialogue, which could so easily go astray in the wrong mouths, remain beautifully modulated thanks to both the skills of the cast and the direction of Eleni Papaleonardos. God's Ear, like so many of Available Light's productions, lives on the stage and breathes through the music of its words.
This play is also literally musical, with a handful of brief, unaccompanied songs by the New York-based composer Michael Friedman. They fit in like intertwined fingers and have the same elusive quality as the dialogue.
Neither Schroeder nor Furlong are given a chance to sing, but Watts and several others in the strong cast are: Acacia Duncan as the Tooth Fairy; Kim Garrison Hopcraft as Lenora, frequenter of airport bars; Nick Lingnofski as the guy who encourages Ted to misbehave; and Ian Short as G.I. Joe and another role that's too surprising to spoil.
Words thrive at Available Light. But don't take my word for it. Go.
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