Our brains have the ability to sweep unpleasant memories under the rug, though they lack the ability to dispose of them permanently. Everything we bury is still there, trying to work its way back to the surface, determined to re-enter our consciousness and stay until acknowledged. Eric Meyer's absurdist dark comedy An Off-White Afternoon, playing at the Connelly Theater as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, is about a middle-aged couple, Henry (Cash Tilton) and Alice (Asta Hansen), who are struggling with repressed memories and blurry gaps from a rocky past of alcoholic hazes and heroin-induced blackouts. Though they are now clean, sober, and happily married, their interaction is strange, as if they live in two different realities. When Alice asks Henry to dress nice and graciously greet the guests of her weekly women's meeting, Henry is shocked. He protests that this is the first time he has heard of a women's meeting, while Alice insists they have had lengthy conversations about it. Henry ends the argument by saying, "Let's just forget it," and Alice quickly agrees that forgetting is best.
Forgetting appears to be a daily part of their routine, especially when it comes to discussing their past. Henry is particularly stuck on a Fourth of July party that upset him deeply, although he cannot remember why. He thinks it is because Alice was so preoccupied with socializing that she ignored him, but after she apologizes he is still agitated, perhaps because he knows this is not the real reason.
Tilton and Hansen are terrific as Henry and Alice, having found the perfect balance on the fine line Meyer has drawn between realism and absurdity. Dan Pfau and Ian Schoen are also riveting as the creepy young boys who saunter into Henry and Alice's house with timid girlfriend Julie (Anne Carlisle) in tow, hours before the women's meeting is scheduled to begin. When they hint at knowing the secrets that lie within Alice's meeting and Henry's memory lapses, our interest in them intensifies.
The story contains more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so revealing anything about the ending would spoil the excellent job Meyer has done in building the suspense. But suffice it to say that An Off-White Afternoon has a satisfying payoff and a poignant message about confronting your past before your past confronts you.