Domestic Politics

The perpetual urge to rearrange furniture suggests emotional unrest, and when the curtain rises on Lovely Day, we find Fran arranging and rearranging the beautiful objects in her well-decorated living room. This ongoing reconfiguration works as a brilliant metaphor in Leslie Ayvazian's trim and thoughtful domestic drama. On Fran and Martin's anniversary, their 17-year-old son, Brian, returns home with the news that a military recruiter has visited his school. As the couple discusses this new development, they begin to pick at the veneer of their relationship, exposing layers of emotional disconnection. The resulting action brings political subjects into highly personal focus. "It reminded me of what's there," Fran explains, after moving a set of cumbersome bookshelves, and the Play Company's incendiary production unearths both old resentments and shocking surprises in a seemingly comfortable marriage.

Martin, a successful designer, is the family's breadwinner, while Fran's painting career seems to have leveled off. She now fills her time meeting with "the group," which turns out to be an assembly of peaceful demonstrators. When Brian offhandedly mentions the military recruiter's visit, she reveals to Martin that while he was away training to be an officer in the Vietnam War early in their marriage, she was secretly attending war protests.

Martin complains early on that their "politics have diverged," but suddenly it appears that their beliefs have been widely disparate all along. Confronted with their son's potential involvement in the Iraq war, Martin and Fran find themselves at war in their living room, with words as their weapons.

Accomplished actress Blair Brown (a Tony Award winner for her performance in Copenhagen) makes her New York directing debut with Lovely Day, proving that she is just as adept offstage as on. She allows the action to build at a very controlled pace, and the couple's arguments unfold with an authenticity that is staggering in its precision and tension. David Korins's warmly hued set works as the perfect upper-middle-class battlefield, enhanced by the convivial glow of Paul Whitaker's lighting design.

Ayvazian develops her dialogue with David Mamet-like briskness and Edward Albee-esque viciousness, and the inclusion of domestic elements (the sound of Brian practicing electric guitar in his upstairs bedroom, the couple's planning and execution of a party) only magnifies the severity of the couple's disputes.

The play investigates the rather naïve assumptions we make about those closest to us, as well as how familiarity and unfamiliarity can exist so inauspiciously in a relationship. For while Martin and Fran can communicate in a nonverbal language all their own, often anticipating a response or simply grunting or gesturing, they have remained complacently ignorant about each other's deepest values and ideals.

Deirdre O'Connell and David Rasche are perfectly cast as the sparring couple, and their airtight rapport should be required viewing for acting students. O'Connell captures Fran's artistic eccentricity and earnest conviction, while Rasche gives a thoroughly compelling, subtle performance as the rather turgid Martin. Both characters are flawed, but both are sympathetic—having no clear winner always makes an argument more interesting to watch.

As young Brian, Javier Picayo makes the most of his limited stage time, convincingly portraying the natural gap that widens between parents and their teenage children. It's never clear exactly where Brian—who would rather play his guitar than consider his future—stands on the topics that have divided his parents. And this may be the most powerful statement of all. While his parents may passionately argue, it is Brian who will ultimately have to face the consequences of the country's actions; whether by the country or his parents, his future seems to have been decided for him.

"Words are what we have," Fran avows, and Ayvazian's script shows the destructive and illuminating ways in which we grip onto our words and our ideals. In Lovely Day, neither playwright nor director shies away from exposing the costs and compromises of domestic negotiations. The political and intimate are bound to intersect, and this very topical production will undoubtedly leave you thinking for some time to come.

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