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A Life

Mark broke up with me a month ago and I've been searching through my astrology chart and through his chart, trying to figure out what happened. . . . Isn't it hard that the truth hides itself so well? It sits in some small corner in a dim light, smiling but not saying anything and, if we're lucky, we stumble across it and then we have to use any means at our disposal to flush it out, to make it show itself. — Nate
David  Hyde-Pierce
All of Adam Bock's plays that I've seen over the past ten years have been quite different. And yet while each has its own content and style, all can be defined by a common thematic thread: the characters always tend to be fairly ordinary types. The situation these characters find themselves in bring them face to face with some truth about themselves and their lives.

These situations range from comic to tragic to mysterious — often a little bit of all. Even when the cast is fairly big as in Drunken City (see links to Bock plays at end of this review), Mr. Bock's first play at Playwrights Horizon's (also at PH's Peter Jay Sharp Theater) Bock never lets his characters overstay their welcome.

The latest Bock play, A Life, reunites the playwright with Anne Kauffman who helmed his Thugs at SoHo Rep. It typically clocks in at just 85 minutes. It's a first for Mr. Bock in that David Hyde-Pierce who plays Nate Martin, the main character, is definitely the star. Yet, after a sublimely delivered, richly character defining monologue and one brief scene with his best friend Curtis(Brad Heberlee), Nate more or less disappears as an active participant.

Oh, he's still there. . .sort of. But the active, speaking parts now belong to the four other cast members: Heberlee's Curtis. . . Lynne McCullough as Nate's sister from Milwaukee. . . Marinda Anderson and Nedra McClyde each doubling up in threes distinct pairs of roles. .

To stay out of spoiler territory, I'll refrain from specifics about just how and why Hyde-Pierce's star turn comes to an abrupt end. I will say that what does follow that sudden shift in focus from star to support players isn't really inconsistent with what went on before. In fact, it ties in quite neatly, and with a potent punch to the heart, with the way Bock has Nate Martin dealing with a crisis in his love life, a break up with his current lover. It's a situation that forces him to contemplate how it happened and what he could and should do about it.

There is a problem, however. Mr. Hyde-Pierce's Nate is such a vivid and well defined character and the two scenes we see him in are such an entertaining mix of Seinfeldian self-absorption and poignancy, that it's hard to sustain interest once he's no longer actively involved and the characters now doing the talking are more devices to reflect the issue with which Nate tried to come to grips.

But let's skip the spoilers and tell you a bit more about the main event, Hyde-Pierce's monologue. . .

While I'm not a great fan of actors coming on stage and making us their confidantes, Hyde-Pierce uses his solo stint so effectively and vividly that he had me hoping that he'd find a way to connect with Mark, the latest in a long lineup list of lovers. — thus not having him stuck in the ranks of the legion of big city dwellers who've reached middle age (Nate is 52) with no one to be close to, or to be there for them should one of those God-forbid sudden disasters strike.

Milwaukee born Mark talks about living in Rhode Island as well as New York. But it's not that the sort of stimulating, high powered career that brings so many people from middle America to New York has caused his go-nowhere relationships. Mark is a proofreader in what he calls a "stupid ad agency" but there's no indication that he's especially talented or has tried and been frustrated trying to achieve some more creative career. He is aware, however, that he's reached an age where he should no longer feel confused about how and why he's gotten to this unsatisfying juncture of his life. That's why he goes to a gay men's therapy group, as explore Quaker church services and more recently has taken up astrology (his explaining the way that works takes up a major part of his fourth wall braking stint on stage).

The talk about the various people in his life since leaving Milwaukee keeps getting back to his immediate crisis: that Mark has broken up with him, which leaves him heartbroken to the point of weeping. Yet he can't seem to find a way to change himself enough to end his unhappiness.

After Mark's brief an actual meet-up with Curtis (Haberlee brings considerable depth to this role) all Nate's how and why quandaries about his breakup are shockingly ended.

Director Kauffman stretches out the unlit, full of street noises (a double round of applause to Mikhall Fiksel) pause at the end of the Nate's meet-up with Curtis to build an almost excruciating sense of dread. (The eerie effectiveness of this scene owes much to sound designer Mikhall Fiskel). Marinda Anderson and Nedra McClyde ably take on their three pairs of characters, and Lynne McCollough has a quite moving cameo as Nate's sister Lori.

There are also two jaw dropping and disturbing scene changes by Laura Jellinek. While Mr. Bock's theme is valid and well worth thinking about, A Life somehow left me just a bit too let down and unsatisfied.

Links to plays by Adam Bock Curtainup has reviewed:
The Typographer's Dream 2003
Five flights 2003
receptionist 200r
The Drunken City 2006
receptionist 2007
Thugs 2008

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A Life by Adam Bock
Directed by Anne Kauffman.
Cast: David Hyde Pierce (Nate Martin), Marinda Anderson (Jocelyn), Brad Heberlee (Curtis), Nedra McClyde (Allison) and Lynne McCollough (Lori Martin)
Scenic design by Laura Jellinek
Costume design by Jessica Pabst
Lighting design by Matt Frey
Sound design by Mikhail Fiksel
Stage Manager: Erin Gioia Albrecht
Running time: 85 Minutes, no intermission
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater 416 West 42nd Street
From 9/30/16; opening 10/24/16; closing 12/04/16
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 20th press preview

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