Monday, May 12, 2008

Never starving for words, at least

Ostensibly, the premise that sets in motion God's Ear - currently playing at the Vineyard Theater near Union Square - is the death of a young son and the fraying if not unraveling of his parents' marriage that follows. But the play isn't really about those things as much as it is a vehicle for playwright Jenny Schwartz to explore how we use everyday language, especially in the form of idioms and cliches, to obfuscate emotions or avert attention from our true desires. There are songs in the piece, but the whole play itself is comparable to a work of music, a fugue or a cantata, perhaps. Still, there's enough of a story along the way to prevent all the wordplay from becoming too self-indulgent. The drama is aided by playful use of the set, which resembles a blue chessboard with removable squares that give way for the characters to enter and exit a scene. The husband of the couple spends most of the action away on business trips, speaking as if by phone with his wife, who nurses a mild depression at home with their curious daughter. On the road, the husband interacts with a transvestite air stewardess, another man in a bar who's escaping his wife and a world-weary barfly of a woman with whom he becomes involved. There are also appearances by the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe; the traditional worlds of fantasy and reality eventually become flip-flopped, as they become the ones reciting grown-up reflections of the couple's children and family life. Those speeches stand out in contrast after so many scenes when the husband and wife cling to tired expressions as their toys, their security blankets.

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