In 1974, in New York City, Victor Cavanaugh, a charismatic, young, up-and-coming East Village fashion designer, has triumphantly presented his new, outrageous women’s wear collection. His assistant, lover and “muse,” the alluring Esme, has been instrumental to his professional success.
In the present, Jess, a 30-year-old, average-figured woman, (not model material) who works for a New York City dot.com, journeys to Little Rock, Arkansas, to be with her dying mother from whom she has been long estranged.
Victor was her father, who died many years earlier, and whom she had never met. During her trip, she fantasizes about him. The play crosscuts between her interactions with this imaginary version of him, and the real Victor in flashbacks.
It’s a stylized “family secrets” drama, presented with a broad comedic tone. Heightened and arch (often including lengthy florid speeches) the dialogue has shades of The Devil Wears Prada. Though mostly dense and opaque, there are emotionally involving sequences, particularly as the play reaches its conclusion. Ms. Callaghan also explores the theme of women’s self-image and how that issue clashes with society’s idealized view and the resulting conflicts. Bordering on the didactic, this nevertheless does yield moments of poignancy.
Also a figment of Jess’ imagination is a chorus of three lean, leggy, tall, female fashion models. This trio appears throughout the play as flamboyantly attired figures walking the runway, or in flesh-colored body suits drifting in and out of the action, sometimes wearing props, such as takeout containers of Thai food or an ashtray, on their heads. It’s a wild touch of fantasy complementing the non-linear and non-realistic structure.
Scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture has created a dazzling, gray and white landscape that ably serves as numerous locations in the shifting time periods with clever fashion world flourishes. Jenny Foldenauer’s multitudes of inspired costumes are eye-catching and authentically enhance the milieu.
The high level of the technical elements by the design team further achieves an immersive environment. The combination of Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting design, John Zalewski’s sound design, and Adam Flemming’s video design often create the sense of a museum fashion installation in a chilly fantasyland. The soundtrack is heavy on David Bowie and Roxy Music, with dashes of Lou Reed.
Director Jessica Kubzansky has a strong command of stagecraft and in obtaining vivid characterizations from the cast. She has done an excellent job of visually and emotionally realizing this complex material.
The English actor Christian Coulson (known in the U.S. for his role as Tom Marvolo Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) is a commanding and charming whirlwind of frantic mannerisms as the extremely thin and wiry chain-smoking Victor. Wearing a series of over-the-top getups, he’s visually an Adam Ant-like figure, but projects the reality of the character through his rich performance.
Tonya Glanz is quite strong as Esme. This very fine actress skillfully and movingly progresses from a seemingly superficial fashionista to a realistic woman of great depth. Her range of intensity recalls the presence of Debi Mazur and Marcia Gay Harden.
Miriam Silverman as Jess, the troubled heroine, winningly portrays the pathos and comedy of the play’s central figure.
Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Nicole Fryer and Nina Ordman all make a collectively great impression as the comic relief trio of returning models.
Lisa Kitchens is very effective as a cunning intruder into the ménage of Victor and Esme. Robbie Tan as Jess’ goofy tech boyfriend is engagingly personable.
Everything You Touch contains an interesting plot, an affecting denouement, and very accomplished technical and theatrical elements. However, due to its rambling and uneven script, it’s ultimately unsatisfying.
Everything You Touch (extended through April 11, 2015)
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, True Love Productions and The Theatre @ Boston Court
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, west of Seventh Avenue South, in Manhattan
For tickets call, 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.cherrylanetheatre.org
Running time: two hours and twenty minutes including one intermission