Simon (Timothy Deenihan), the handsome, sophisticated heart surgeon, stands upstage left. Anna (Celia Schaefer), the winsome nuclear-arms regulator, stands upstage right. Jennifer (Danielle Skraastad), a vivacious bonds trader, stands midstage. Each character is on a different raked platform; the three-foot-wide blue platforms, one a half-foot high while another is nine inches high and the last a foot tall, intersect at midstage forming an “X” with an “I” dissecting it. The raised platforms occupy the stage, giving the three characters the only places to play as they transverse carefully the various heights, edges, and gaps. The seemingly simple set creates a complex series of angles and levels that mirror the complex weaving of monologues from the three characters as Tomorrow in the Battle plays out in 90 riveting minutes.
Randall Parsons’ scenic design tasks Deenihan, Schaefer, and Skraastad in the same ways Kieron Barry’s play does. Deena Pewtherer’s sophisticated lighting palette compliments the set, acting, and play just as Laura Margolis’ clear staging completes the play. Having its world premiere at Stageworks/Hudson, Tomorrow in the Battle is structurally like a Brian Friel play, only that Irish genius would never write about British One-Percenters. Instead of The Faith Healer, here you get The Faithless; instead of the popular Molly Sweeney, you get just get Ayn Rand’s X Generation. Barry, whose Lonely Hearts Ventura was a hit of this year’s Play by Play festival at Stageworks, weaves patriotism, love, lust, money, idealism, Freud, entitlement, nuclear deterrent, and hypocrisy with a blend of theatricality, humor, realism, and lyricism that grips the audience not just during the performance, but long after. As she has shown throughout her 17-year stewardship of Stageworks, Margolis has an eye for exciting new plays.
Tomorrow in the Battle’s setting is present-day London, but the milieu is pure moneyed narcissism. It could be set anywhere and anytime wealth entitles the ego. The play spins out in a series of addressed-to-the-audience monologues, and tells the interwoven tales of a heart surgeon without a heart, a nuclear scientist without a brain, and an investment advisor without money. As Simon, his wife Anna, and his mistress Jennifer confess, spill their insights into their cultures, and imagine or re-create sexual conquests both real and fantasized—The Fifty Shades of Grey crowd will find their bits titillated—the audience at Stageworks leaned in to empathize and laugh with the characters, even as they betrayed their spouses, lovers, professions, or country. The audience are the three’s only outlet, as the actors don’t interact with each other; while one character speaks, the others watch from the shadows. Deenihan, Schaefer, and Skraastad act with a precision and a truth that captivates even as their characters’ actions are repellent. They are naked, but never nude, revealing themselves as fully as they are capable, but always clothed in shades of brown (the curious costume design by Maureen Schell). They create performances more typically demanded of a Shakespearean drama, only instead of hunchbacks desiring kingdoms, Tomorrow in the Battle gives the entitled moneyed elite desiring each other.
Playwright Barry’s aesthetic encompasses not only the currently topical, the philosophically deep, and the frankly prurient, but entwines them all with a bracing humor: “I had random sex with the working class,” Jennifer says to the audience with a smirk. “He could maintain an erection with an intelligent woman: How many can say that?” The play is also filled with similes, to allow the audience to understand how life is experienced by Simon, Anna, and Jennifer: “He looks at me like he’s going to paint me,” and, “He kisses me and afterward my mouth feels like it did after a clarinet lesson.” Barry presents engaging conflicts, crises, and climaxes for his characters; the sound of his words suits the sense of his scenes. He challenges actors and audiences with a syntax and diction that is not the dumbed-down condescension of simple sentences and small words. Tomorrow in the Battle is a play to revel in.