Written by Kate Robin
Directed by Jim Simpson
With all due respect to The Flea’s publicity department, the expression “rom com” – found on the show’s website and press release – doesn’t do justice to this luminous new two-hander. Although it does center on a chance encounter that grows into an affair, I SEE YOU has little else in common with the frothy tone and love-conquers-all idealism that typify romantic comedies. What Playwright Kate Robin and director Jim Simpson are pursuing here is a more mutable, ambiguous definition of love.
Nina (Danielle Slavick) and Jesse (Stephen Barker Turner) meet while supervising their respective children at a ball pond. Talkative Nina starts prattling on about her macro-pessimistic view of the world (“look at what’s happening out there. Civilization is totally breaking down.”). Not wishing to appear rude, Jesse offers a few laconic responses. He can’t come close to matching Nina’s gift for gab, but what he does say reveals volumes about his stale marriage and thwarted ambitions. Nina, for all her loquacity, at first shares almost nothing about her personal life. Their budding friendship deepens when Jesse’s daughter is rushed to an Intensive Care Unit (I.C.U.), with a scary case of shellfish poisoning. As Jesse frets in the waiting room, his wife -apparently googling furiously by the child’s bedside – is conspicuously absent. Nina comforts the distraught dad, and in this vulnerable moment they begin, inevitably, to fall in love. What do two thinking, conscientious people do now? Is it better to hold back, and chance spending their lives ruing a missed opportunity? Or should they give in to their impulses, and risk putting their marriages in harm’s way? The search for answers proves knottier than they could have imagined.
The script, like many two-handers is soft in the middle. Jesse and Nina carry on their small talk about big issues a few beats too long before moving to next stage of courtship. And Nina’s Jeremiads sometimes make her sound like a mouthpiece for the author’s opinions. Once the story heats up again, though, it goes to unexpected, often lyrical places. The chemistry between the two leads is believable and affecting, and both actors mine the subtext in imaginative ways. Simpson, aided by an ingenious design team, creates a series of pictures that sensitively encapsulate the characters’ thirst for beauty in a mundane world. Scenes of silhouettes limned by candlelight during a blackout and coruscating patterns of video art projected on twirling bodies stand out in vivid contrast to the flat illumination of hospitals and playpens.
There are no pat conclusions here, and yet despite its many somber notes I SEE YOU is by no means a downer. In Kate Robin’s world, love may not have the power to surmount life’s daunting obstacles, or to save the human species from willful self-annihilation. But, for those lucky enough to find it, it may make our brief stay on earth more bearable.
I SEE YOU continues through December 18 at the Flea Theater 41 White Street, New York, New York. Website http://www.theflea.org. Telephone (212) 226-0051.