Friday, May 20, 2011

Dad-to-Be Blues

Chaplin and Barron in Knickerbocker (photo by Carol Rosegg)
Written by Jonathan Marc Sherman
Directed by Pippin Parker
Starring Mia Barron, Alexander Chaplin, Bob Dishy, Christina Kirk, Drew Madland, Zak Orth, Ben Shenkman

Performances through May 29, 2011
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street

In Jonathan Marc Sherman’s agreeably slight Knickerbocker, impending fatherhood haunts 40-year-old Jerry, whose anxiety contrasts with wife Pauline’s levelheadedness. The first of seven scenes, which introduces the couple, with Pauline three months into her pregnancy, shows them good-naturedly picking a name for their peach-sized unborn son.

Six more scenes follow in the six months counting down to the big day in October, all set in Jerry’s favorite restaurant in the neighborhood near the Public Theater. After Pauline’s first appearance (she returns in July and October), there’s his best friend, straight-shooting Melvin; his former but still flirty girlfriend, Tara; his other best friend, unrepentant stoner Chester; and his father, Raymond.

Knickerbocker is a series of vignettes, some funny, some more serious, but none probing all that deeply, thanks to Sherman’s labored dialogue. The best moments come during Jerry’s rather touching talk with his dad, which goes for sentiment instead of the easy laughs sprinkled throughout the rest of the play. (Do we really need to hear Jerry and Tara discuss how his sperm tastes or her taking her shirt off at a Who concert, or Charles being happily oblivious to maturity or responsibility?)

It’s unfortunate that Sherman ends Knickerbocker with one final Jerry-Pauline scene the day before she enters the hospital for her C-section, because it spoils the gentle poignance of Jerry reminiscing with his father.

Christina Kirk (Tara) and Zak Orth (Chester) overdo their admittedly caricatured parts, while Mia Barron makes an engaging Pauline, Ben Shenkman a nicely restrained Melvin and Bob Dishy an amusingly flustered Raymond. Alexander Chaplin, the lone actor onstage for the entire play, amiably plays off the rest of the cast.

Pippin Parker’s efficient staging, which uses one semi-circular restaurant table for all the scenes, doesn’t solve a big sightline problem: the back of one performer’s head often faces certain members of the audience. (The titles that introduce each scene are also not visible to some viewers.) Knickerbocker, finally, has too few insights to compensate for its overreliance on a certain quirkiness that first amuses then sags.

No comments: