A Winter Tale

Michael and Edie, a new play by Rachel Bonds, produced by the Greenpoint Division at The Access Theater, is thoughtful, quiet and sad: a play steeped in winter’s muted tones.  The play primarily takes place in an urban bookstore in late November and early December, and tells the story of two of its employees, whose names are the title of the play.  Michael falls for Edie on his first day of work, but Edie is less enthused.  As the play progresses, we learn of the familial ghosts that haunt the characters’ pasts and presents and watch as a playful friendship forms between Michael and Edie admist stacks of books and heavy snowstorms.  Dark, yet sweet, Michael and Edie is a fine piece of new theater. The play is populated by a cast of idiosyncratic characters, who are, for the most part, very well cast.  Matthew Micucci, who plays Michael, is pleasantly awkward, with doe eyes and an eager smile.  Edie, played by Stephanie Wright Thompson, darts around the stage with a hint of humor, suppressed by sadness.  Both performances are nuanced and endearing, though I find myself wishing for more chemistry between these two would-be lovers.  The first half of the play finds Michael mooning over the uncertain Edie, which is believable enough, but the scenes in which the two are meant to be connecting feel a bit forced.  

Some supporting actors give equally excellent performances.  Jocelyn Kuritsky, who plays Michael’s little sister Sarah, a depressed, anxious teen, is nasal and angular, both comedic and tragic in her adolescent pain.  Gabel Eiben, who plays John, the bookstore owner, creeps up from behind bookshelves and darts around the stage, looking shifty.  One gets the sense that the director,  Robert Saenz de Viteri, used this actor’s personal quirks to their best advantage here, achieving some much needed bits of comic relief.  I am less impressed with Jacob Wilhelmi, who plays Edie’s dead brother, Ben: next to his gifted castmates, he comes off as rather bland.

In all aspects of the production, there is an interesting dichotomy between dark moods and child-like playfulness. Lighting, designed by Natalie Robin, is low and muted, with emphasis on saturated blue backlighting.  The inventive set, designed as an art installation by Hugh Morris, is a combination of piles of books and wire structures hung from the ceiling, bent to look like bookshelves.  While taking inventory at the bookshop, Edie and Michael rattle off names of famous novels and authors, striking the structures as they go, which produces a musical-sounding clang: something between a windchime and churchbell.  

The set’s musicality is sometimes lighthearted, as in the aforementioned scenes, and sometimes sober.  At a particularly serious moment between Sarah and Ben, Sarah knocks together two of the structures in passing, and they clang again and again, rhythmically, solemnly, giving the moment a kind of ceremonious weight.

Rachel Bonds has written a play that is at once lyrical, contemplative and mournful.  Her interest in the passage of time and seasons is a theme beautifully explored in both text and tone, and then further developed in the production's design and direction.  However, in its embrace of winter’s quiet,   Michael and Edie, lacks a sense of urgency:  I do not care enough about these characters and their stories for the piece to move me or change me in any way.  These people are in pain, I know, but I don’t feel it, and I cannot quite enter into it.  Perhaps a little warmth would have been useful here.  But there is no doubt that Bonds is a talented playwright, and The Greenpoint Division a company worth watching. I look forward to seeing their future work.

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