An Ecuadorian father, Nelson (Anthony Ruiz), struggles to reconnect with his three adult children when his past catches up with him in Vanessa Verduga’s comedy Implications of Cohabitation. Verduga also plays the love child, Sara, who does not relate to her half-siblings, Kevin (Andres de Vengoechea) and Jenny (Connie Saltzman). Their father, Nelson, had an affair with Sara’s mother, Carmen (Adriana Sananes), when she worked as a waitress at a local Ecuadorian restaurant. Sara is a successful attorney with corporate clients, yet she is insecure when it comes to relationships with men. Kevin is an actor, but his father wants him to run the family construction business. Jenny is a punk rock singer who smokes marijuana and is still finding herself. Nelson’s wife, Caitlin, and mother to his two children, Kevin and Jenny, has recently passed away. Now alone, Nelson decides to live with each of his three children in their separate homes with the hope that they will take care of him in his old age. Nelson soon realizes that his children are more concerned about their own lives, and they are not interested in being his caretaker.
The comical misunderstandings throughout this production are amusing, as when Nelson discovers Jenny’s bong, but the humor cannot hide the lack of believability that pops up. In the beginning, when Kevin and Jenny share that they are still grieving over their mother’s death, there are not any memorable, somber moments to express their sadness or loss. They are more focused on viewing their half-sibling, Sara, as an outsider. Sara has a distant relationship with Nelson, while Kevin and Jenny seem to be closer to him.
It does not make sense that Nelson did not first ask his children if he could live with them. It suggests that Nelson has not been around his children for some time now, and he suddenly wants to spend his life with them. When Nelson does show up on their doorsteps, his children are so lost in their own worlds that they do not know what to do with him.
Right before Nelson arrives at Sara’s apartment, Sara’s ex-boyfriend, Jake (James Padric), a gay boxer, staggers into Sarah’s living room drunk. Jake says, “I fucked up. Me and Jean got into a huge argument. And now he’s disappeared.” Jean is Jake’s boyfriend, and Jake goes on about how worried he is about Jean. Padric’s entrance is confusing and it is a stretch to buy that Jake has genuine feelings for Jean and is actually worried about him. Padric does eventually pull off his character splendidly, with physical humor and succinct comedic timing when he mistakenly overdoses on the anti-inflammatory drug Naproxen.
Later, Nelson meets an alcoholic homeless man (David Pendleton) at a bench in a park. The two men get acquainted and eventually Nelson offers the homeless man a beer as they chat. Pendleton was giving a stellar performance until, unfortunately, he forgot his lines and whispered this to Nelson. Fortunately, Ruiz didn’t flinch and continued with his lines until he exited. His accomplished performance from the moment he appears on stage really holds this show together.
Set designer Anna Grigo creates a neat and organized set with a park on the left, an apartment in the middle, and an Ecuadorian restaurant on the right. What does not work is that the apartment is static and does not transform enough to represent each of the children’s homes. The transitions are also noticeably long. A picture is simply replaced on the wall to represent that the set has changed from Sara’s to Kevin’s apartment. When it is supposed to be Jenny’s apartment, some clothes are thrown on the furniture. The interior decorating best suits Sara’s taste and temperament, and it is easily plausible that this is her home. Kevin does not seem successful enough as an actor to afford to live in such a place. Jenny appears more like a squatter or an Airbnb guest in this space.
Even with a two-act structure, Implications of Cohabitation never fully ripens to the point where Nelson is actually living with any of his children. The play gradually takes a turn and focuses more on Sara’s wedding and the participation of her friends and family members. There is probably a great wealth of material that could be further explored by having Nelson live with his children. When telling a family story between two disconnected generations, it can be fascinating to watch how both generations play off of each other’s differences. Director Leni Mendez’s challenge is to bring greater authenticity to this production through natural performances and maintaining the original intention of this story.
Implications of Cohabitation runs until Aug. 26 at the Clurman Theatre (Theatre Row, 410 West 42 St., between 9th and 10th avenues) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 7 p.m. on Aug. 23. Tickets cost $20.25. To purchase tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit sudacastheater.com.