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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

We're not always like this, you know. We can be very. . . normal. And fun. On good days. But maybe it's better after all that you understand why— that you see what we're up against here. That it's no laughing matter. — Maxine
Kevin Sebastian in Sick
(Photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas)
Maxine (Liz Zazzi) enters the sterile-looking all white room of her Lower East Side Manhattan home and turns on two huge air filters. Although her face is partially covered by a paper surgical mask and she wears a white hospital gown over white pajamas, we are correct in our assumption that she is middle-aged and most likely not a professional medical practitioner. All the furniture is covered in plastic. The windows are hermetically sealed. It doesn't take us long, however, to wish that this play about a family living in fear of outside and inside contamination had also been hermetically sealed.

Jim (Rusty Ross), the 26 year-old graduate student doesn't know what he is in for when he accepts an invitation from his poetry professor Sidney (Jim Shankman) to meet the family. Jim and Sidney are both exhausted and sweaty having just finished a game of squash as they remove their shoes and continue their pointless chatter about smutty sonnets by the 17th century's Earl of Rochester.

Jim is obviously uncomfortable in this un-homey atmosphere, but he is determined to stay put until he can get Sidney to sign the letter of recommendation for PHD studies at Stanford. The first dramatic jolt is delivered by Maxine as she goes on a tirade about the foyer carpet that Jim and Sidney have soiled with their shoes and complains that she is always cleaning pubic hair off the bathroom floor. As she appears to be a classic study in neurotic obsessive-compulsive behavior, those around her don't seem to consider her one step short of a lunatic. Perhaps if she really went off the deep end more irrationally and consistently, she might be good for more laughs than we get.

According to Maxine, the health of 19 year-old Sarah (Meredith Napolitano) and 17 year-old Davy (Kevin Sebastion) has been seriously compromised by the environment since 9/11. Although we learn that Maxine has since kept them at home and home-schooled, we don't learn much about their relationship or how they feel about her. Although both Davy and Sarah suffer allergic reactions to almost all chemicals and non-organic substances it is Davy who lugs around an oxygen tank.

We are led to believe that Sidney may be on to something when he tells Jim that Maxine is making a lot of this up and that he has been sneaking products not authorized by Maxine into the house and hiding them to prove his point. As Jim begins to take an interest in the pretty but insecure Sarah, he also encourages her to leave home and go to college.

Things begin to bubble and then burst when Sidney tells Maxine that he has brought pollutants into the house. Sick is occasionally reflective of the darkly absurdist plays by Italian socio-political satirist Dario Fo. The so-called comedy, however, steadfastly ignores the basic rule of theater: to make us believe in what is happening whether literally or abstractly. Under the indifferent direction of Benjamin Endsley Klein, Sick has the additional burden of showcasing a group of actors who, although they appear intrepid, plod through the pot-holed plot without being the least bit interesting to watch.

  By Zayd Dohrn
  Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein
  Cast: Meredith Napolitano, Rusty Ross, Kevin Sebastian, Jim Shankman, Liz Zazzi
  Scenic Design: Carrie Mossman
  Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
  Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
  Sound Design: Kevin Siwoff
  Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes including intermission
  New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ
  (732) 229 – 3166
  Performances: Thursday and Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM; Sundays at 2 PM.
  Tickets ($40); seniors and students are $35
  Opened 02/14/09 Ends 03/15/09
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/14/09

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