All writers in general and playwrights in particular are uneven. Perfection is not a widely recognized human attribute. As the poet Horace cannily observed, “Sometimes even good old Homer nods.” So does Shakespeare, the greatest of all. And Nicky Silver, bless his heart, can doze off with the best of them.
But whereas Horace referred to occasional passages in the Homeric epics, dramatist Silver can be somnolent for an entire play. All that glitters, we know, is not gold, but neither is it Silver. At his worst. he can be merely self-indulgent; at his best, as in the current “This Day Forward,” he puts his best foot forward. Here, I guarantee, there is no shuteye either from him or for you; you will be kept pleasurably alert.
This is particularly interesting because the play is in equal measure funny and serious, blending those opposites with conspicuous skill. The first act takes place in 1958, the second in 2004, enabling spectators to speculate about what the passage of 46 years can do to a person.
In Act One, Irene and Martin are well-off Jewish newlyweds in a suite of the posh Saint Regis hotel, with Martin scarcely able to contain his eagerness to bed his bride. But Irene, somewhat belatedly on their wedding day, reveals that she does not love Martin. Early in the day she was in fact in bed with Emil, a supposedly very handsome gas station operator, her clandestine lover for some time. The revelation drives Martin nearly crazy, while Irene evinces only a middling embarrassment.
Emil duly shows up and claims Irene for himself. Although Joe Tippett, as the Emil In this production, looks consummately ordinary, this only confirms the insidious illogic behind physical attraction or its lack. Act One implies that Irene, or even Martin, might subsequently split, even as Martin and Emil fight over her, or seem to, but the whole thing remains differently absurd..
After the intermission, we gather that, whether in love or not, Martin and Irene have stayed together for forty odd years, and that Irene, now an eccentric widow and mother to adult Sheila and Noah, drives the caregiver daughter nuts, and infuriates son Noah by repeatedly calling him Martin. Both offspring are understandably exasperated.
In this Second Act, Noah is a successful stage director, homosexual with a live-in partner, Leo, a young actor not entirely undemanding. Sheila is sick and tired of caring for Irene, who just made off to the airport in nightgown and robe, only to be returned with police assistance. Irene, as sassy as can be, and in most ways pleased to lord it over her children, is not all that complaisant with either of them.
Out of this material, Silver has fashioned a provocative comedy—really a comedy drama—that elicits both laughter and thoughtfulness from its viewers. We cannot but be amused when Irene rebukes her son, “For God’s sake, I know that you are gay, Noah. I made you gay. I did it to spite your father.” Or when she comments about her alarming escape, “I had a Toblerone bar a the airport. Why can’t you get those anyplace but the airport? They’re delicious.”
One of the not inconsiderable virtues of “This Day Forward” is that it offers no easy solution to its problems. Noah is, though physically satisfied by Leo, no less eager to get away from him to Hollywood and avoid commitment. He is loath to take on Irene as his responsibility, yet not so sure about making it in Tinseltown. So the play becomes, on top of comedy and even farce, tinged with drama, as we worry about what is to become of Irene in her widowhood. But we are also concerned for her children, to whom, kvetch that she is, she is a genuine burden.
The direction by Mark Brokaw is impeccable, overcoming the threat of remaining too talky and static by means of inventive stage movement and well-paced dialogue. The cast could not be more apt, whether in reproach or resignation, repartee or rebarbativeness. Thus Holly Fain is subtly provocative as the young Irene, and June Gable is jovially grouchy as the aged one. Michael Crane is equally commendable as the sideswiped groom Martin and the restless homosexual Noah. Andrew Burnap and Francesca Faridany are helpful in encompassing the real and the ridiculous in well handled double roles.
Allen Moyer’s contrasted sets—plushly traditionalist for the Saint Regis, and edgily modern for Noah’s bachelor pad—are on target, and Kay Voyce’s costumes, like David Lander’s lighting, are similarly to the point. Nicky Silver, without quite being Shakespeare, has his gift of melding the real and the ridiculous, of turning the everyday into the oddly endearing.