Sarah (Miriam Silverman), a social worker/dancer wannabe, is having a quiet Christmas Eve with her boyfriend, Sam (Matt Dellapina), a paralegal/musician wannabe, when her childhood friend, Nate (Nick Westrate), a frustrated third-grade teacher, bursts in to shake them all up.
Nate, who for some reason calls Sarah “Louise,” is high on something and is clearly there on a mission which becomes clear as he immediately and unremittingly puts down poor Sam with cleverness and the kind of psychological insight only madmen can muster. Sam, for some reason, quietly takes all the abuse Nate hurls at him, coping by uttering ridiculous bits of philosophical fluff taken from such fun thinkers as Kierkegaard, until he is forced to take more physical action. Sarah is caught between her rich memories of a childhood spent in a magical alliance with Nate and the possibility of a future with the staid Sam who truly loves her as she is.
Nate is the queen chess piece who deftly out-maneuvers Sam’s poor schnook pawn. Sarah is the knight, moving in angular patterns, bouncing awkwardly between the two men. Checkmate is in sight several times after much exhaustingly literate self-diagnostic diddling. When it is achieved, it’s shockingly unexpected and melodramatic. A bittersweet coda set in the future is anticlimactic.
The three toss around quotes from W.H. Auden and Emily Dickinson and go on and on about Brueghel paintings, intellectualizing their feelings, keeping them at arm’s length until their facades fall with a clunk that changes them forever. All this intellectual self-analysis—much of it directed squarely at the audience—is distancing, making their little Christmas Eve ménage à trois a cerebral, but not unmoving, exercise.
Margot Bordelon has directed A Delicate Ship with a keen feel for these beleaguered characters. She uses Mr. Thompson’s set with great skill, moving them warily about the space. She is helped by Sydney Maresca’s perfect costumes and Nicole Pearce’s lighting which gives depth and drama to the space.
A Delicate Ship is The Playwrights Realm’s first presentation of its 2015-2016 season and it is a good omen for the rest of the season.
A Delicate Ship (through September 12, 2015)
The Playwrights Realm
Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.playwrightsrealm.org
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission