Lyric, the title character of Michael Puzzo’s Lyric is Waiting, is one of those troublesome women we’ve seen dramatized before: stubborn, feisty, plagued by demons. In the play, currently enjoying a run at the Irish Repertory Theater, Ned (Brit Whittle) tries to make sense of his broken relationship with Lyric, narrating its history by providing Annie Hall-style fragments. Unlike Ms. Hall, however, it’s hard to see what makes a character as aloof and off-putting as Lyric is worth fighting for. To say this show is a tad absurdist is an understatement. The play traces Ned’s struggle to reassemble what went wrong, but it doesn’t take place in his mind. At least, not completely. While some scenes take place in Lyric’s home, the backdrop (beautifully created by Joel Sherry) is that of a forest. Other characters include a librarian, a torch singer and an earlier girlfriend of Ned’s (all played by Kelly McAndrew), and, well, Bigfoot (Joe Masi). Perhaps what is oddest about Lyric is that it doesn’t feel odd at all for Bigfoot to be a character.
Odd is fine, but Lyric is more befuddling than beguiling. Ned looks back on his relationship with Lyric, now that it has ended, though he doesn’t explain exactly why their relationship is over; we have to wait to get answers about that. Director Adam Fitzgerald blocks Ned to pace back and forth between various moments in his past, both with and without Lyric.
As a result, we see when they first meet, under less than romantic circumstances. We also see them a little bit in good times, but mostly through bad. Lyric, as played to bravely unlikeable effect by Lori Prince, is a tumultuous character. She starts fights and causes scenes. Puzzo suggests that these fits are caused by something real, but can never make clear what that is. Why for example, does she continuously start playing the decade-and-a-half old Nirvana song “Rape me?”
Ned, meanwhile, blames himself for Lyric’s self-destructive, volatile shifts. His problem is that he views Lyric as his problem to solve. Whittle does an outstanding job of dramatizing Ned’s inner conflict, of being torn between feelings of responsibility to Lyric but interest in someone else. At times, I thought that Puzzo made Ned too hard on himself, and that Puzzo viewed Lyric in too sympathetic a light.
This is because Lyric remains too ambiguous. Lyric the character can remain a cipher, but the show itself needs to answer more questions than it raises. How much is fantasy, and how much is reality? For example, is Bigfoot a vision? A kind of conscience for Lyric? A concoction of Ned’s own? Or something entirely real? To Masi’s credit, he makes all of these possibilities plausible, with only a smattering of dialogue, but it’s to the show’s discredit that he remains so undefined.
McAndrew is also a strong presence in her litany of roles throughout the show. She helps to lighten the action, if not always providing actual comedic relief from Ned’s wallowing. At times the character feels a little too self-aware of her role in Ned’s narration. She speaks as though she is more informed than he is; she knows she is playing a role in the play, however, the character exhibits no control over the story.
As annoyingly selfish as Lyric is, Prince does a thorough job of playing the prickly woman. She makes it clear that the woman is troubled, even if we never learn what those troubles might be. Whittle also does a great job as the wounded Ned; his performance is searing.
Nonetheless, these four terrific actors can only put so much of a disjointed play together. In Lyric, we intellectually grip that has Ned must say goodbye to Lyric, but our hearts never appreciate just what he has lost.