Much of the play takes place in the present at the disheveled Evanston, Illinois house of 65-year-old retiree Bob Sacco. Originally from the South, he attended Northwestern University where he met his now absent wife and stayed on. Now alone and disaffected, Blaze is the light of his life. The agitated middle-aged African-American unemployed nurse Janet Blount who lives in a nearby housing project barges in after Blaze attacked her dog Pippi. Bob has hazy recollections of the incident. Rachel Huang, a 35-year-old pregnant gay Asian-American in a strained relationship, is the animal control officer who arrives to investigate.
Mr. Calvani skillfully spins this out with tension, suspense, probable symbolism and an alchemical quality that infuses the events with poignant depth. Calvani piles on plot twists, introspective asides and philosophical musings that add up to an erratically compelling experience.
Probably best known for his recurring role of Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe on the sitcom Frasier, Dan Butler has also carved out a substantial stage career that began in the early 1980’s. As Bob, Mr. Butler is a stupendous whirlwind as he tosses off Archie Bunker-style racially charged bon mots, intones pitiful ruminations and lashes out at everyone around him. Magnifying the already high caliber of his performance are the searing authentic details he demonstrates after Bob suffers a health crisis. Butler is colossal.
Ranging from delightfully daffy to dramatically forceful, is Richarda Abrams as Janet. Ms. Abrams’ sustained William Inge-type wistfulness when rhapsodizing over Pippi while soon repeatedly getting laughs is marvelous to experience. The animated Abrams really excels when she has to impersonate someone else.
Deadpan, dry and later unraveling, Anne Son is equally as entrancing in the complicated part of Rachel. Ms. Son offers a sparkling portrait of a contemporary woman juggling career and a shaky personal life amidst an unusual situation. Son, Abrams and Butler have an intense chemistry together that even energizes the play’s vague patches.
Director Erwin Maas’ picturesque staging considers the space’s large area by having the cast in strategic areas. Mr. Maas adds many presentational flourishes such as the actors running in place at times. These touches all lead to a mystical dimension as opposed to simple realism that fulfills the author’s intentions.
Scenic designer Guy Delancey’s contributions are integral with his hypnotic setting. The walls are black and there’s just a few pieces of furniture spaced apart that are covered in gauzy white cloth as is the floor and the pews the audience sits in. The actions flow continuously from location to location due to the spare setup. Mr. Delancey’s lighting design has a celestial quality with its varying murkiness. Perfectly selected streetwear in hues of blue and beige make up Delancey’s fine costume design.
Dog barks, modulated ever-present rumbling electronic music, and snippets of inane television audio clips are ominously rendered by Fan Zhang’s sound design that is a perpetual reminder of the piece’s foreboding atmosphere.
This world premiere of Beautiful Day Without You was commissioned and presented by the Origin Theatre Company which is devoted to bringing works by emerging European artists to the United States. Here, they’ve introduced something that is difficult though intermittently fascinating.
Beautiful Day Without You (through November 25, 2018)
Origin Theatre Company
The West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.origintheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission