Side Effects

In The Window, Marta Mondelli makes a compelling debut as both playwright and one-third of the piece’s ensemble. It’s a play that while rooted in the writer’s love for classic cinema is much less a locked-room mystery, and instead becomes more of a study of the time and its effects on women. With shows like Mad Men in the mainstream, we have all been inundated by iconic images of the mid- to late-1950s: a picturesque suburb; housewives in homes decked out with all the modern conveniences; and of course, all the advertising that came along with this new modern lifestyle. Basically, the very product of what was then a new industrial boom. However, while baking apple pies and being a homemaker like Donna Reed on acid may seem like a walk in the park compared to today’s modern-working woman, appearances can often be deceiving, as Mondelli further explores.

At the start of the play, we meet Eva (Cristina Lippolis), a young twenty-something who was recently jilted at the altar and has since spent what was to be her honeymoon working as a taste tester of sorts for a soda company.  As Tester Number 52, we watch Eva read her manual and look up various possible side effects of the experiment.  However, the side effects would ultimately end with not only physical repercussions, but psychological as well.  Throughout the duration of the play, Eva starts noticing suspicious activities outside her courtyard-facing window and begins to believe that a neighbor has been murdered. Skeptical of these supposed strange disturbances is Eva’s aunt Nora (playwright Mondelli), twice-married Park Avenue socialite who is staying in the apartment to keep her niece company.

What's intriguing about The Window was not only the feel of 1950s New York as soon as one enters the Cherry Lane Theatre's performance space (scenic designers Nicholas Biagetti and Pedro Marnoto cleverly put up a laundry line by the aisle seats, which hit you overhead just as find your seat), but also the thematic content itself. While there were certainly cinematic elements such as the use of the fourth wall as the titular window in question, the play felt more akin to some of the great literature that came out of that time — particularly, J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, in which a young girl suffers a breakdown. While Eva is certainly down the road to a breakdown herself, she appears to be holding onto a certain idea of womanhood she has been taught to attain for herself in the form of marriage. Nora, on the other hand, clearly despising the small "window" of time a woman is expected to enjoy her life, often proclaims to leave her wealthy husband for a humble and much younger writer, Bill (Scott Freeman). Thematically, this is effortlessly tackled throughout the play, most notably in Mondelli's dialogue. For instance, when referring to the pair of canaries left behind by Eva's ex-husband-to-be Spencer, Nora says to her: "They're birds: they were never meant to be caged." At this point, one can only wonder if it's only the birds she's talking about.

When a time period serves as another character as it does here, one has to expect it reflected in the look and feel of the entire production. As previously mentioned, the set design appeared historically accurate; short of acquiring an actual vintage Frigidaire icebox (which instead was painted onto a sepia-colored backdrop), the bottles of soda and canned goods handled by Eva seemed right out of the period, which added an authenticity to the production. Also adding a '50s touch are exquisite costumes (Nora's shift dresses and stylish trench coat), but also provided some interesting symbolism (Eva's yellow dress mirroring the yellow of the "caged" canaries.)

As for the actors, Lippolis' Eva moves with the grace of a ‘50s-era starlet, She is more than believable for her character's reserved, polite girl-next-door demeanor. In fact, she is perfect: from the way she moves across the room to the way she sips her soda, to even her diction – everything about her seemed like she jumped out of a black-and-white film and into our own Technicolor world. To think for a second that she might be like every tech-savvy twenty-something out there seems just as unlikely as the murder committed out of her window. As her aunt’s young lover Bill, Freeman too seems a man out of time, exuding a presence that recalls that of a young Marlon Brando a la A Streetcar Named Desire. To say that he holds his own against his female counterparts would be an understatement; he gives more to the character than what he has been given, and it is unfortunate indeed that Bill isn't explored more as a character. However, it is Mondelli herself who steals the show with her feisty and fabulous Nora. She has a dazzling presence onstage, as bubbly as the champagne she laps up and at once witty and surprisingly observant.

If you love old movies just as much as Mondelli does, than you'll delight in the subtle references the play makes. However, for fans who not only enjoy period drama, but love to reflect on its history, The Window is definitely a treat.

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