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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review

The point? Why does there need to be a point. . .the Great Reductiveness in which everything we say must be shrunk down to You Make a Point and I Refute it; I Make a Statement and You Rebut It. Is that really the best we can do? --- Michael, setting the tone for the witty interchanges that cement his relationship with Linda.

A secret, like a disease, is a very human thing. It hides inside you. Discovers where you are most vulnerable. And then it hurts you-- Linda, who conveys the hurt of both a secret she's harbored and the disease that's afflicted her with compelling warmth.
Julie White
Julie White (Photo: Joan Marcus)
It was difficult to limit myself to a single quotation to put at the top of this review. That's because Steven Dietz's jigsaw puzzle story is a quotable feast. Since their first meeting at a Paris cafe, the two central characters have thrived on rapid fire, frequently quotable and argumentative repartee. When they are not playing verbal ping pong, they address us with incisive and equally quotable monologues.

Both Linda (Julie White) and Michael (Tom Irwin) are published writers so not all their time is spent in witty conversation and monologues. Linda who teaches literary fiction is the author of a critically acclaimed novel based on her rape while in South Africa. Michael is a more commercially successful novelist. Both are prolific journal keepers and it is their journals which serve as Dietz's Pandora's box. You see, Linda upon being diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and facing death within three weeks (as she figures it -- " twenty meals") asks Michael to read her heretofore strictly private journals after her death. As she explains it " It's ludicrous.. .not to mention vain -- I mean vain in a truly Tom Wolfe-ian sort of way -- to think that they are not real, that I am not real unless someone reads them." After warning Michael not to expect her journals to be exciting ("If you wanted excitement you should have married Plath or Nin or Stendhal"), she quietly adds a request that has the effect of a ticking bomb. Before she goes, she wants to read his journals.

Dietz, though new to New York theater goers, is an experienced, popular regional playwright. He is a savvy enough to rise above the B-Movie contrivance of that fatal tumor and the inevitability of having those journals yield shattering revelations. In his hands the fatal illness is believable because its victim is so believably complex, smart and endearing that you don't even question the fact that she remains healthy looking and lovely. As for the journals, it's the questions they raise as much, if not more, than the contents that intrigue.

Should two people, even under extreme circumstances, ever reveal their most carefully guarded secrets to each other? Are Michael's journal entries about his stay at the same writer's colony where Linda wrote her South African novel based on fact, or are they, like his other writing, fiction? Abby (Emily Bergl), the young woman who manages the colony and appears in the pages of both their journals, is obviously a real person -- but has Michael embellished on her role as the colony's facilitator?

Dietz sorts fact from fiction with quick shifts between past and present, real and imagined events. David Warren directs the many stylish twists and turns right through the surprise ending with understated theatricality. He's well served by James Youman's simple puzzle-like set, suffused in Jeff Croiter's mood enhancing lighting. Most importantly, Julie White, Tom Irwin and Emily Bergl bring intelligence and polish to characters who might easily come off as too facile and manufactured.

This is a smart play which is likely to be most appreciated by people who enjoy good acting and literate dialogue. Like the playwright's much produced Private Eyes, ( click here for my review) it's likely to have a life long after its limited run at the Roundabout's beautiful new Laura Pels Theatre.

Written by Steven Dietz
Directed by David Warren
Cast: Tom Irwin (Michael), Julie White(Linda), Emily Bergl (Abby)
Set Design: James Youmans
Costume Design: David C.Woolard
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: John Gromada
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission
Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theatre 111 West 46th Street.
From 6/30/04 to 9/12/04; opening 7/25/04.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on August 4th performance
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