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A CurtainUp Review
String Fever

It's all very jittery, that's the word they use, physicists: jittery. Things make no sense, none whatsover. And it seems these strings somehow in some way I don't understand they make it make sense or at least potentially they make potential sense. I like that.    --- Lily.
Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon and Jim Fyfe
(Photo: Scott Wynn)
The lush playing of a violin sets the tone for another play to add to our growing list of plays that make us think differently about science. The focal character is Lily (Cynthia Nixon), a once aspiring first violinist in a symphony orchestra now supporting herself as a teacher. The scientific principle around which her story coils itself is known as the String Theory, a concept about matter being the sum of microscopic strings.

Lily's understanding of the Theory's fine points remains vague but it strikes an emotional chord -- partly because she is introduced to it by an attractive physicist who has come into her love starved life; partly because the Theory's potential for making sense of things that heretofore didn't simply by looking at conflicting disciplines (General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics) as part of a whole picture reflects her own need to re-evaluate all the things that have made her an Angst-ridden forty-year-old wishing she could be thirty again.

While String Fever's dialogue is peppered with bits and pieces about this intriguing "theory of everything", you'll leave the theater knowing no more about the String Theory's fine points than you did when you arrived. The talk about atoms, molecules and Black Holes notwithstanding, this is an easily accessible comedy with eccentric characters that could easily have stepped out of a sitcom such as the one (Sex and the City) that has made Nixon's familiar to millions.

The scientific hook on which Jacquelyn Reingold has hung her story allows for a somewhat more artful and abstract construct for the way Lily and the people in her life stay connected even though they are all in different parts of the country -- and, in the case of her friend Gisli (Evan Handler), in another country (Iceland). But what really makes this marriage of physics and playwriting work as a heartwarming comedy is the acting. In a season of award-worthy ensembles, the six actors pulling the strings of Ms. Reingold's play together rank with the best.

Nixon is luminous and likeable as the woman whose decisive fortieth year has her grappling with the prospect of single motherhood via artificial insemination, the excitement of a new love and the pain of letting go of the lover whose mental breakdown led to their painful parting of the ways. Her eccentric kith and kin are equally endearing and believable.

Tom Mardirosian is funny and touching as the talkative suicidal father who has his own relationship problems and seems to like Lily's mentally unstable ex-lover Matthew (David Thornton) better than the charming physicist Frank (Jim Fyfe, whose last name is a funny physics insider take on the String Theory's "Planck length of string"). Thornton is at once appealing enough to make you understand what Lily saw in him and discombobulated enough to make you wonder if the strings of his psyche can ever be re-strung. Fyte is attractive and charming enough to make you hope that Artie's (Mardirosian) hesitancy about him is unfounded.

Cecilia de Wolf demonstrates low-key acting at its best as Janccy, Lily's supportive friend and confidante whose own poor choice of a mate landed her in the Midwest -- and whose illness provides Lily with yet another sadness to deal with. Best of all is Evan Handler as Gisli, a minor celebrity in Iceland and a major supplier of comic relief whenever String Fever leans towards tragedy.

The leader of this talented band, Mary B. Robinson, keeps things moving along at a well-paced tempo. David P. Gordon's spare set is geared to make the semi-thrust stage fully accessible whether you sit in the main or sight section. Michael Krass subtly hued outfit for Ms. Nixon, Michael Lincoln's lighting and Rob Gould's sound design complete the assets of this production.

For capsule summaries about and links to other science related plays, see our Science Plays Page.

Written by Jacqueline Reingold
Directed by Mary B. Robinson
Cast: Cecilia deWolf, Jim Fyfe, Evan Handler, Tom Mardirosian, Cynthia Nixon, and David Thornton.
Set Design: David P. Gordon
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Michael Lincoln
Sound Design: Rob Gould
Running time: 90 minutes, without an intermission
E.S.T.,549 W. 52nd St 212/206-1515 or at
2/26/03-3/23/03; opening 3/03/03.
Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 8 pm, with early evening shows Saturday at 5 pm -- $35.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 3rd press performance
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