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A CurtainUp Review
The three scenes begin on a day that could indeed be described as lovely since it's Fran (O'Connell) and Martin's (Rasche) twentieth wedding anniversary. No last names, though Smith, Jones or Brown would suit this typically middle class couple living a place that might be the author's own hometown of Leonia, New Jersey. Lovely Day is also the title of one of the CDs, all love songs from Fran and Martin's era (the 1980s), that their beloved teen aged son Brian (Javier Picayo) has bought them as a present.
The scene is set with a good bit of stage business involving Fran's rearranging the furniture. This compulsion to change things (symbolizing bigger changes she wants to make?) establishes an unsettled, tense mood which is borne out by the somewhat Pinter-ish interaction between her and Martin. Unlike the obviously in love couple in Edward Albee's The Goat, whose happy marriage comes apart with the revelation about an unconventional affair on the husband's part, the marriage of Ayvazian's marrieds seems somewhat less perfect from the outset. But neither are they patterned on Albee's George and Martha (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) who tear each other apart through years of hard-drinking, unhappily undivorced togetherness. Fran and Martin are quite sober, unless you want to count a glass of white wine.
The playwright smartly uses the initial scene to fill us in on a few necessary details about the couple's day to day life. Martin has apparently come out of a fallow period in his business; on the other hand Fran, an artist, has not been swamped with commissions which leaves her with time on her hands, a good deal of which is devoted to a group that holds daily peace and prayer vigils on the town's main drag. Her involvement with this group is the smoking gun pointing to the differences that will dominate the plot -- or rather skeleton thereof.
Unfortunately, several major problems dog Lovely Day's issue driven plot. Despite hints that Martin's long-standing my country do or die convictions and her increasingly strong anti-war belief wouldn't be causing a major rift if there weren't a fault line in the marriage, what we watch is a living room town meeting with just two of the town's citizens. This doesn't exactly generate the intimacy and fire needed for a marital drama. We get little or no sense of more passionate, personal moments in this couple's life. They throw a party as a sort of post-anniversary celebration but we're only let in on the post-mortems (colorful, red chairs rented for the occasion and waiting to be picked up the next day) before it's back to the debate about their different take on the Iraq war and whether and why it should turn young Americans into global policemen instead of allowing them to fulfill more meaningful destinies.
Another problematic plot point is that Fran's concern goes into high anxiety mode when Brian (a small but likeable debut role for Javier Picayo) mentions that recruiters have become an active presence at his high school and that he and other students had to sign some sort of paper. He doesn't know any details and doesn't seem too concerned. Martin also doesn't consider it "an issue." And, given young Brian's laid-back persona and the family's economic circumstances (these people may not be rich, but they also don't fall into the demographic where army service is the only means for a college education), neither is the audience even remotely persuaded that this eighteen-year-old might trade his guitar and a college education for a uniform unless we have a draft -- which is probably how his father ended up in the army during the Vietnam war.
And so, instead of the actual drama that might accompany an announcement from Brian that he plans to enlist, we have Fran upset about what is a troubling invasion of privacy but nothing to support her fears about his heeding arecruiter's pitch. Brian seems more troubled by his parents' squabbling than the global situation that has exacerbated the disturbing ripples in their relationship. If anything is going to send him into the army it will be his parents' inability to resolve the differences kicked up by the war and making his home a battlefield instead of a safe harbor.
Blair Brown is as skillful a director as she is an actress. She has done her utmost to give Lovely Day as much the look and feel of a play rather than a debate. Like O'Connell and Rasche -- and yes, the playwright -- she can do just so much to keep the polemic from overwhelming the play. Still, ending as it does on an inconclusive, no-win note, this theatrical debate mirrors what is likely to be the outcome of this awful war and underscores how difficult it is to really understand each other, even if married for twenty years.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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