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A CurtainUp Review
Peter and Vandy

by Les Gutman
A little part of you has to die when you are in a relationship.
Monique Vukovic and Jay DiPietro
M. Vukovic and J. DiPietro
(Photo: Eric Maierson)
You will have to search long and hard to find a play that is more sharply written, tautly staged or better acted than Peter and Vandy. It is not a play that tackles enormous issues of global importance -- it falls under the general rubric of "relationship plays" -- but just as the play's many scenes (there are nine by my count) are cobbled together to limn a period in its characters' lives, the work can be seen as an important shard in our understanding of a broader society that is, if not smashed, at least broken.

Peter (Jay DiPietro) and Vandy (Monique Vukovic) meet at college, thereafter live together and subsequently break up. That's the story in a nutshell. But DiPietro (who is also the writer and director) has it unfold out of sequence, an unusual effect that renders it all the more compelling. It is not told in flashback, or in the reverse direction, both of which we have of course seen before. Rather, it shifts back and forth. So, in the first scene, the couple are living together, strains showing but overcome. In the second, Peter is arriving in Vandy's dorm room, for a date. In the third, they are living together, and bored with each other; a step beyond the opening scene. In other scenes, we will see them mid-breakup, post-breakup and, in the final, romantic scene, at a time of seeming bliss.

One of the strengths of DiPietro's work (aided measurably by the show's designers) is how adeptly he keeps the audience grounded, without any apparent exposition. Along the way, he manages to flesh out both of the characters in detail -- Peter is moodier, more analytical and, filled with self doubt, almost charmingly self-deprecating; Vandy is more insular, pragmatic and, overall, tougher -- and provide a good deal of humor. He is a keen observer of evolving behavior: choice of words plays a large role in triggering reactions, and yet some of the play's most telling moments are when its characters are at a loss for them.

Both actors are impeccable. I've seen both before, but they've never been more convincing. It's not clear over what period of time Peter and Vandy transpires, but it's long enough that both characters have become different people. The loss of buoyancy in the performances is palpable.

The show is in a very small house, and runs briefly, but it is well worth seeing. Mr. DiPietro is a protégé of Tom Noonan (I doubt either would mind the label), whose Paradise Theatre Company presents the piece. It's DiPietro's first full-length play, and (perhaps tellingly) the first play Paradise has seen fit to present other than from Noonan's own hand. Most of Noonan's plays have been preludes to films of the same material (notably, What Happened Was..., The Wife -- aka Wifey -- and Wang Dang. I would not be at all surprised if Peter and Vandy has a similar future. It is staged "cinematically," each scene blacking out (and several at just the right moment of graphic depiction). Which brings me to my one grumble: the scene transitions, which are awfully long. They will evaporate, of course, if you wait to see a film version of the play; I wouldn't wait.

Peter and Vandy
Written and Directed by Jay DiPietro
with Jay DiPietro and Monique Vukovic
Set Design: Kendell Pigg
Lighting Design: Jennifer Brainsky
Costume Design: Sharon Rosen
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes with no intermission
Paradise Theatre, 64 East 4th Street (2d Av/Bowery)
Telephone: (212) 206-1515
THURS - SAT @8, SUN @3; $15
Opening September 12, 2002, closing September 29, 2002--Extended to October 12th!
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 9/7/02 performance
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