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A CurtainUp Review

Eight Days (Backwards)

I definitely aspire to greatness but eagerly accept mediocrity. I try to think globally and act locally, but mostly I just eat a lot of Haagen-Daze.--- Jonathan
Barbara Garrick & Christopher Innvar
Barbara Garrick & Christopher Innvar (Photo: Carol Rosegg )
The first and last of the eight brief encounters Jeremy Dobrish has concocted for a baker's dozen young and not so young characters to explore romantic myths and reality are great fun. For an extra dash of piquancy, the eight episodes are interlinked and structured so that we follow the various events in reverse order. In short, the first revelations about the fantastical new twist in middle-aged Gloria's (Randy Danson) and Frank's (Bill Buell) relationship is really day eight followed by day seven, six and so on; characters mentioned in one episode, show up in the next or previous one. As Dobrish explains in the Vineyard Theater's newsletter the purpose of this backward story telling is to focus on why Gloria and Frank and the assorted other characters got to the point of acting desperately or irrationally in order to jump the hurdles that have obstructed erstwhile dreams of joy and fulfillment.

Backwards or forwards, what's bookended by the two Friday scenes, one amusing and the other quite touching, is disappointingly uneven and hardly on a par with Harold Pinter's better backwards told Betrayal. There's an amusing corporate boardroom meeting in which a financial group's team leader (Barbara Garrick) rides roughshod over her male colleagues Weinstein (David Garrison) and, Kaplan (Bill Buell, again), and, in absentia, over a no-show team member (Christopher Innvar, whose similarly castrating wife she plays in a later episode); unfortunately the the scene wears thin before its conclusion.

Daniella Alonso, the play's young femme fatale, gets stuck in the three least successful episodes -- as an illegal Mexican maid forced to service her midlife crisis stricken boss (Innvar); as the potential trophy wife of the widowed Weinstein; and as the girl with whom Jonathan (Josh Radnor), the son of one of the board room scene men, falls instantly in love. A flashback in which Alonso and Garrison have long, semi-poetic monologues is boring and out of synch with the overall mood . Radnor's failure to persuade Alonso to let their meeting in a bar blossom into romance has some smart dialogue but the vignette's best part comes when Innvar, this time as a bartender, decides against using an apparently often used card trick to convince Jonathan that his soulmate might not necessarily "come wrapped in some tight little mini-skirt."

None of the actors, can be blamed for the play's hit and miss, gimmicky quality. All except Radnor tidily handle double roles. Director Mark Brokaw, with set designer Mark Wendland's help , has pulled together the eight markedly different scenarios with a photo montaged background that visually supports the backwards conceit and the connecting links used to forge a play from eight disparate segments.

To add to the hilarity of Gloria and Frank's behind-closed-doors marriage refresher games, designer Michael Krass has put Bill Buell into an outfit that has to be seen to be appreciated. Dobrish has the good sense to save us from actually having to watch Gloria and Bill do what she describes. Too bad, he insists on giving us a ringside view of poor old Weinstein's up-against-the-wall sexual interlude with Alonso's Selena character

Jeremy Dobrish is a multi-talented and accomplished young man (founder of his own company, director of a variety of plays, including his own). While this new play falls short of being the new look at our yearning for trust and romance he had in mind, its variously aged characters do show an awareness that such longings have no age ceiling. Perhaps in his next play he'll borrow a leaf from Izzy, his most sympathetic character. Izzy, you see, knows how to make a few indirect words of encouragement go far. Unlike Dobrich's more confrontational characters, Izzy, on seeing that "the things for the house" in his old pal Frank's shopping bag are from an S&M shop, manages to subtly tell him that it's ok to try something new -- all without straying too far from the usual small talk about ball games and a borrowed hedge clipper. When Frank declares "We said a lot didn't we?", Izzy can honestly reply "Yes we did, Frank. I think in the course of one beer, we pretty much said it all." Here's to more such characters to help Dobrish say all he wants to say with Izzy-like subtlety.

EIGHT DAYS (BACKWARDS)
Written by Jeremy Dobrish
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Cast: Josh Radnor, Barbara Garrick, David Garrison, Randy Danson, Bill Buell and Daniella Alonso.
Set Design: Mark Wendland, lighting by costumes by , sound by and m Jaes Kalas
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Mary Louise Geiger,
Sound Design: Janet Kalas
Original Music: Lewis Finn
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 Minutes.
Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St. (Park Av S./Irving Place), 212/353-0303.
5/28/03-7/05/03; opening 6/16/03.
Mon-Fri at 8pm, Sat at 4 and 8 -- $45.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 12 press performance

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