The Loneliest Number
A heterosexual couple in a strained marriage engages partners of alternating sexes monthly in this brilliant play where comedy merges with painful drama.
Wendy’s father committed suicide. John has had cancer. The tattooed Arianne has shifted from one job and one romantic interest to another of both sexes. Kevin was adopted, is anti-social and has a startling photographic memory.
Author Lizzie Vieh’s brilliant play The Loneliest Number initially appears to be a slight off-beat comedy about a swinging couple’s encounters but after its first third evolves into a profound, suspenseful and searing exploration of relationships. Ms. Vieh’s dialogue is sharp, filled with well-crafted jokes and painful depth. A wistful description of a children’s Halloween parade with them in their costumes becomes an insightful reverie of desires.
Over the course of ten scenes that span five months in the present, each of the four characters expresses themselves with articulation and offers confessional revelations that all ring true. Amidst their physical and emotional intermingling there are psychological and health crises. Vieh has the skill and confidence to perfectly end the play with abrupt force as Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” plays in the background.
In addition to coordinating the high caliber technical aspects, director Maria Dizzia’s gorgeous staging combines aesthetic accomplishments with realism. From her superb cast Ms. Dizzia achieves the qualities of intensity, unity and playfulness that characterized Mike Nichols’ best films and theater productions.
Conveying fragility and strength is the captivating Leigh Williams as Wendy. Lithe, with flowing hair and a charged presence, Ms. Williams offers a haunting portrait of a woman overwhelmed by her traumatic past and her complex options in the present.
The affable, volatile and melancholy John is poignantly rendered by Maurice Jones’s powerful performance. Mr. Jones’ soothing voice and physically imposing being simultaneously provokes laughter and sadness especially when he recounts his physical ordeals.
The role of Kevin could have been another sit-com depiction of a troubled lovable nut à la Friends. Instead Justin Yorio manages to magnificently soar from humor to darkness with heartbreaking results. The bearded, wiry and soulful Mr. Yorio is often still and deadpan but erupts in fury and anguish with his flaring eyes.
With her animated and athletic appearance and throaty vocal delivery, the winning Cassandra Paras is a delight as Arianne. Whether reminiscing about a string of bad jobs, matter-of-factly expressing her fluid sexuality or just being fun, Ms. Paras emits affective sincerity.
“A white box” is a phrase used to describe many contemporary generic apartments. Scenic designer Frank J. Oliva literally recreates such a white box with his fascinating configuration. The compact white playing area is set as a living room with minimal black furnishings. It’s framed by a border of panels that extend backward suggesting that the set is in an actual box.
Mr. Oliva’s arresting creations succeed on a symbolic and most crucially a practical level. The bar with high chairs that’s near the kitchen area later becomes a real bar. A bed is pulled out of a wall to indicate we’re in a different apartment and a couch is really a sofa bed that transports us to another location. These clever elements allow the scene transitions that take place in dimness to flow smoothly and rapidly.
Ali Hall’s vigorous lighting design often employs a piercing brightness that captures the play’s prevalent austere tone. For the bar scenes Mr. Hall has a muted hue offset with red and blue that atmospherically represents the environment of the bar.
Pop tunes, effects and incidental music are all adeptly realized by sound designer Nick Abeel with subtle purpose.
The four characters are crisply visualized through Jocelyn Pierce’s authentic costume design of present day stylings.
Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen are among the preeminent artists who have sought to dramatize the complexities of the human condition in their works. The Loneliest Number is a comparable contribution to that endeavor.
The Loneliest Number (through March 10, 2018)
The Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente Soto Vélez Center, 107 Suffolk Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-299-2140 or visit http://www.amios.nyc
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
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