Presented in the cloister of a church on the Upper West side, you might assume that Beautiful Day Without You would be a religious experience. If that's the case, then it's most assuredly old testament, not new. This latest offering from Origin Theatre is a stark, unforgiving slice of life, and if god is watching, he's either apathetic or malicious. The play's flawed characters don't share dialogue so much as mutual rebukes that range from the passive aggressive to the lasciviously petty. The plot follows them through poorly-conceived decision after poorly-conceived decision on a path to mutual decay. Everyone is miserable, no one has the power within them to fix themselves, or others. This play is a violent depiction of still-life misery.
Dog owners Bob (Dan Butler) and Janet (Richarda Abrams) end up in an altercation in which she accuses his dog of being responsible for her dog's death. Animal control officer Rachel Huang (Anne Son) is called to put the situation to rights, but her own issues with her long-term romantic partner start rearing their head and muddying the waters. As personal and interpersonal conflicts mingle, these three strangers get more an more embroiled in each-other's lives. The results vary from borderline tender to explosive.
Richarda Abrams, Dan Butler. Photo- Deen van Meer.
The actors really make this show. Marco Calvani's script is so rife with bitterness that if poorly played it would simply turn in to a ninety-minute shouting match. With this cast and Erwin Mass' gentle directorial hand however, we see the layers of these people. This still doesn't make us like them, but understanding breeds a familiarity. Butler's portrayal of Bob's grief at his wife's death engenders sympathy, but that does not excuse his belligerent racism. Abrams' depiction of Janet's religious morality makes her appear sweet, but when we see her committing acts that are petty and self-servingly unchristian it casts that sweetness into a deep shade. Son's Rachel is the play's de facto voice of reason, but we see that her commitment to righting wrongs leans more towards the vocational and bureaucratic than to a sense of moral duty. Her demons at home have long since wore thin her patience and belief in something greater... what's left is a functional shell playing the part of the person she once aspired to be.
Dan Butler, Richarda Abrams. Photo- Deen van Meer.
Marco Calvani has created a bleak play, no question. As recriminations compound childish denials, the audience descends into a place of sunken desperation. They stare at these hopeless characters aching to the point of pleading for a moment of redemption. His dialogue is meticulously observed, with moments of poetry that highlight the suffering inadequacies of everyday conversation. There is a second act development that feels like it would be better served at the beginning of the first, and there are moments when the play belabors a point already well made, but in a piece about imperfections, a few more only add to the patina. You won't smile a lot during this play, but you will feel like you watched something unnervingly relevant.
Thomas Burns Scully is a Popdust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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