25-year-old Claire arrives in Manhattan from Quebec and gets a job as an assistant editor at a video production company. She moves into an East Village apartment with a roommate. She is the amiably loopy and borderline alcoholic Mary Ellen who works in retail. Mary Ellen’s best friend is the tough Deborah; they’ve known each other since middle school in Syracuse, New York. The three become close and pastimes include watching Downton Abbey and How I Met Your Mother on Hulu.
This is what I’ve wanted. Three of us. A real group. In New York City. The two of you making rent. Somehow. Me, hovering over you like a guardian angel. And just to be like in each other’s lives. That’s a special thing. The prime of our lives.
Claire goes on a Tinder date with the cocky finance guy Blake that’s cleverly staged in darkness with them holding and using flashlights. Sparks, sex and a relationship follow.
Recalling the beguiling intensity of the young Isabelle Adjani is the captivating Roxanna Kadyrova as Claire. With her willowy physique, piercing eyes, dark hair and accented vocal tones, Ms. Kadyrova is at times hilarious and wrenching. Kadyrova makes for a riveting everywoman.
Reciting a richly detailed speech about going to brunch is an uproarious highlight of the blonde-haired, wide-eyed and radiant Stacey Weckstein’s performance as Mary Ellen. Ms. Weckstein beautifully conveys the pathos of being a taken-for-granted third wheel with her sense of curdled Midwestern joie de vivre.
As the harshly pragmatic Deborah, with her blonde hair and striking facial features, the alluring Whitney Harris is a forceful anchor. Ms. Harris’ domineering regality in the play’s second portion is of the likes of a Eugene O’Neill heroine.
These three women dressed in variations of black and white, together joyfully execute Mr. Stratton’s gliding staccato dance moves that echo the animated Peanuts television specials during recurring bits as they converse and reveal their inner thoughts.
Oozing arrogance, the suavely masculine and muscular Stratton also plays Blake with rakish glee and self-absorption. He has a simple but erotically charged dance duet between himself and Kadyrova that is breathtaking in its effect.
Clad in all black, tall, lean and with a man bun, the soulful Michael Tyler appears throughout, first as a silent stage hand and then wonderfully as the articulate David, who becomes crucially involved with Claire.
Mr. Kahn’s dialogue is a witty amalgam of up to the minute lingo, well-observed lifestyle data, psychological insights and emotional depth that all realistically and artfully conveys the characters’ Millennial sensibility. Allusions to Friends and Sex in the City abound, apps are analyzed, real estate is obsessed over and salaries are disclosed. The passage of time is connoted by Claire’s birthdays that flow from one to the next.
Kahn infuses his plot with occasional meta interjections where the action is interrupted and we’re in a show within a show and there are cases where the events are repeated through descriptive interior monologues. It’s Pirandello crossed with Charles M. Schultz with shades of Strange Interlude tossed in and it’s all totally absorbing.
During the show, there are various projections on the stage’s back wall of complementary images. There’s also cheeky filmed separate sequences of Ms. Dashevskaya and Kahn pondering their struggle to depict the play’s problematic “second act” as they wander through Lower Manhattan. The final 30 minutes are a melancholy jump ahead of eight years with Luis Buñuel-style flourishes at a dinner party where the fates of the characters are shakily but purposefully resolved.
Utilizing the all-black stage that’s set with some wood chairs Dashevskaya creates a minimalist atmospheric landscape with her masterful placement of the actors and acute visual sense. The bracing lighting design further enhances the presentation.
The eclectic recorded score is drawn from among the works of Max Richter, Serge Gainsbourg, Satie and original compositions by Vanessa Gould. It’s alternated with Sebastian Contreras-Cisneros’s vigorous onstage drumming. Anthony Dean and Edwin Huet’s sound design renders the music and effects with gusto.
The videos by director Albert Rudnitsky, director of photography Daniel R. Lozano and editor Felix Glyukman markedly achieve the desired surrealistic dimension.
Through its fine writing, sharp performances and wondrous stagecraft, Chatter offers a bleak though droll take on metropolitan life right now with stylized realism.
Chatter (through July 8, 2018)
Sly Fennec Productions
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-563-6269 or visit http://www.thetanknyc.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission