The waiting periods during major conflicts and tragedies will often strip off layers of character to reveal our vulnerable and solitary selves. But while the conversations that go on during these periods may feel particularly important and profound, they don't necessarily make for good theater. Waiting: A Trilogy, the third play from Brooklyn Heights journalist and playwright Paulanne Simmons, falls short of its goal by relying too heavily on dire situations and the characters' backgrounds to deliver an underdeveloped theme.
In the three disconnected scenes, three characters go out of their way to do something nice for somebody else, supposedly connecting the ideas of serving a higher power and earthly goodness. In a hospital, a Christian Scientist attempts to comfort a co-worker who is waiting for the results of her husband's brain surgery. At a bus stop, a young schoolteacher refuses to leave the scene of an accident to ensure that her cab driver isn't unjustly blamed. And in a high-rise office building, an Orthodox Jew risks his life during a terrorist attack to wait for help with a wheelchair-bound friend.
All compelling ideas for scenes, but in the end, there's nothing to hold on to. Taking its own leap of faith, Waiting falls back on the assigned spirituality of its characters to give the performances a sense of grace. While Simmons set out to explore the connections between spirituality and good deeds, she doesn't go deep enough with the characters, nor do some of the actors.
In the first scene, Deborah Paulter (Brenda, the Christian Scientist) and Stephanie Lynn Hakun (Ethel) set a bizarre and contradictory precedent in the very bare hospital waiting room, which consisted of only a bench and a table. Paulter's Brenda was ebullient, if slightly overacted, in contrast with a hesitant and awkward Hakun, who proved in the second scene that her glaring mid-sentence stutters were not intended as part of any one character.
Also in that scene, a booming Patrick Toon (cab driver Mohammad Abdul al-Aziz Medani) and Pierre O'Farrell (a too blatantly racist bus driver, Vinnie) have it out over a bus-cab collision, and Hakun, as the cab's passenger Heidi, steps in to defend Abdul. When a police officer (Joe Salgo) winds up taking Heidi's word rather than condemning the foreign taxi driver (as he says he normally would), the scene winds up feeling like a sugar-frosted morality lesson.
In the final and most powerful scene, Toon (Aaron) and O'Farrell (Tom) did achieve the degree of stripped-down humanity that the script called for, but it was far too late in the production to provoke a reconsideration of the play itself. Toon, O'Farrell, and Salgo, each in dual roles, might have grounded the production with solid performances, but they could not rescue it from its acute case of oversimplification.
The script also has characters revealing intimate details and personal anecdotes far too detailed for a slice-of-life trilogy. And while there were moments of comic relief, they wound up feeling inserted like keys into the wrong locks of the wrong doors. For serious drama to open itself to humor, the audience needs to be emotionally invested first.
No one likes to wait, much less watch other people wait. The lesson here is that if you're going to make an audience watch characters wait, the waiting needs to be pretty damn significant.