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A CurtainUp Review
Delicate Ship

What if we just hadn't opened the door? I sometimes get trapped in the loop of that question. To this day, it can take hours to get out of that loop.—Sarah
Miriam Silverman and Nick Westrate (Photo:Jenny Anderson)
Sarah may slip into the "loop" of wondering what would have happened if she hadn't let that knock on the door interrupt her Christmas celebration with . But of course if she hadn't, we wouldn't have a play. And the volatile Nate, knocking on the door, sets plenty of what ifs in motion as to how his arrival will affect the future of Sarah and boyfriend Sam's about to get serious relationship.

It's a deceptively simple story, a love triangle of sorts. But Anna Ziegler has managed to create a tension-filled, totally absorbing story. With its mix of monologues and interactive scenes, day-to-day and poetic dialogue, this 3-hander feels longer than 80 minutes.

But don't get me wrong. I mean that "feels long" in a good way. A Delicate Ship is a small, beautifully written, cleverly constructed play that delivers a big emotional wallop. This linguistically rich, superbly directed and performed Playwright Realm production now coming into the last stretch of an all too brief run at the Peter Sharp Theater, confirms my sense of discovering a fresh young writer when I saw Anna Ziegler's Dov and Ali. (see review link below).

The basic story focuses on three contemporary characters in their early 30s: Sarah (Miriam Silverman), a social worker with who attributes her being single at 33 to not being very social. . . Sam (Matt Dellapina, an unlucky with women paralegal with songwriter-musician ambitions and a philosophical bent, with whom Sarah is in what promises to be a long-term relationship. . . Nate (Nick Westrate), the charming but combative and chronically unhappy childhood friend who grew up in the Brooklyn apartment above hers(as he wryly explains at one point "We had the same bedroom. Every night I slept on top of her").

The way Ziegler has used a past to present and beyond narrative structure, makes this ordinary love triangle work to satisfyingly watchable and clarifying effect. Having each character take turns as an audience addressing, narrator-commentator is never stagey. Instead it enables Ziegler to segue between the characters' present and pasts, which includes their connections to their parents lives.

The use of both daily and heightened language makes this all work, reaching beyond the play's smallness — and deep into Sarah, Sam and Nate's psyches and relationships.

The intricate, dense structure doesn't need elaborate staging (Reid Thomson's unfussy set, Nicole Pierces' lighting and Syndney Maresca's costumes are are just right). But it does call for a director finely attuned to the structural and psychological complexities. Margot Bordelon fits the bill admirably, never allowing the high-flown philosophical talk to overwhelm the story.

And Ms. Ziegler couldn't wish for a better threesome than Silverman, Dellapina and Westrate to make that quiet Christmas-a-deux erupt convincingly into an emotional tsunami. As the calm turns stormy, they must surf through waves of philosophical talk without letting it stumble into a debate. The men who are meeting for the first time, must come off as at once amiable and hostile. And Sarah must make her love for both men believable. The tricky game all three must navigate includes a heavy with subtext game of Jeopardy.

Westrate has the showiest role as the intensely needy, increasingly drunk Nate who turns Sarah and Sam's peaceful Christmas into a confrontational minefield He doesn't come off as a hostile intruder, determined to break up Sarah and Sam, but starts out .full of exuberant amiability. But it doesn't take long for these two very different men to get caught up in a bound to end badly battle for Sarah's love that's peppered with ideas about the fickleness and inevitable of time (as its way of making children no longer necessary to parents, and the parents actually disappear).

But Dellapina is also very fine as the less aggressive Sam whose own insecurities and anger gradually give way to Nate's increasingly less subtle needling. As for Ms. Silverman, she too brings out her character's vulnerability and excessive caution about about her relationships that makes her over analyze everything. That includes analyzing "even the good stuff to make sure it's not actually bad."

Nate not only triggers this delicate play's most explosive scenes but also has the most eloquent speeches. The title comes from his lyrical effort to persuade Sarah that their navigating life's difficulties depends on her living with him: I would never disappear. . . we'd traverse the endless series of days like explorers in a ship made of time itself, its delicate sails moving easily through the churning water..."

This is a talky play. But what talk!

With Photograph 51, which we reviewed in Los Angeles six years ago, currently making a big splash in London (Nicole Kidman is the lead), perhaps this and and Ziegler's other plays will enjoy many more productions elsewhere.

Other Anna Ziegler Plays reviewed
Photograph 51 Dov and Ali Off-Broadway and the Berkshires' Chester Theater

A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler
Directed by Margot Bordelon
Cast: Matt Dellapina (Sam), Miriam Silverman (Sarah) and Nick Westrate (Nate)
Sets: Reid Thompson
Costumes: Sydney Maresca
Lighting: Nicole Pearce
Sound and Composition: Palmer Hefferan
Props: Anna Demenkoff
Stage Manager: Alyssa K. Howard
Running Time: 80 minutes, without intermission
The Playwrights Realm at Peter Sharp Theater 416 West 42nd Street
From 8/18/15; opening 8/27/15; closing 9/12/15
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