Toni Press-Coffman’s 2000 drama now having its first New York revival is a talky play whose first act is told almost entirely in monologues addressed to the audience. However, its depth of emotion and its detailed powerful character study make this an unusual evening of theater. Under Nathaniel Shaw’s compelling direction, the cast of four made up of Pete McElligott, Amadeo Fusca, Emily Batsford and Katrina Lenk are totally believable as they inhabit these characters.
The play opens with a lengthy monologue in which Kyle tells us how he met and courted the remarkable, vivacious and magnetic Zoe starting with his junior year at college and their subsequent six year marriage before the tragedy. Although we never meet Zoe, so detailed is Kyle’s description and obvious enchantment with her that we feel like we have always known her. While the playwright’s text does not give the actors stage business, Shaw cleverly has Kyle packing items which have sentimental value for him throughout on Craig Napoliello’s minimalist setting which makes the play less static than it might have been and makes the work less like a radio play. The play ends when Kyle has packed the last box. The magical lighting by Carl Wiemann segues between the lights in Kyle’s apartment to looking like stars in the Arizona night sky. The original music and sound design by Julian Evans adds to the eerie otherworldly quality of the play.
As Kyle’s childhood friend and best bud who becomes a doctor, Fusca is sympathetic, warm and supportive. Beautiful Lenk as Kathleen remarkably “becomes Zoe” in the course of their encounters. Older than Kyle, she is very understanding, wry and open, not necessarily the prostitute with a heart of gold, but a very worldly wise woman. Batsford’s Serena, on the other hand, is at first unsympathetic and querulous when we meet her, but she grows on you as the play goes on. She seems to mellow but this may simply be that as we see Serena more we come to agree with her point of view.
Toni Press-Coffman’s Touch is a rather challenging play both in that a great deal of it is narrated in recollection and also that it deals with much naked emotion. The cast led by Peter McElligott who is onstage almost throughout the evening could not be bettered. Director Nathaniel Shaw has made this under-dramatized play into a more theatrical experience. While Touch will not be for everyone, it is an impressive document of the workings of the human heart.
Touch (through September 4, 2016)
Libra Theater Company
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: one hour and 25 minutes including one intermission