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Emotionally stunted: (l-r) Rogers and Dinklage in Knickerbocker.

At a Loss

By Ralph Hammann


By Jonathan Marc Sherman, directed by Nicholas Martin

Williamstown Theatre Festival; Nikos Stage, through July 19

Last week I questioned why anyone would choose to produce a play as insignificant as the underdeveloped Children for the season opener on the Williamstown Theatre Festival main stage. Now, the Nikos Stage opens with a comedy that is even more inconsequential and less funny. If matters continue in this manner, I am afraid I shall grow nostalgic for Roger Rees’ three-year reign of terror in which, however poorly performed, noble works opened each season. Then, at least a critic could rail against the ineptitude of the execution. Now, one merely sits in befuddlement and boredom, insulted that Nicholas Martin (WTF artistic director and Knickerbocker director) thought the works themselves were worthy of our time.

Knickerbocker is so named because it concerns New Yorkers, suggests knickers (which in turn suggests children), and is set in a restaurant that may be named the Knickerbocker. It doesn’t really matter; though I do think “nicked” would better describe the feeling I had on leaving the theater after being cheated of another two hours of my life. I mean this very earnestly: If a theater can’t do better than this in competing with other venues of entertainment (the diversity on Netflix alone offers ample reason to not even leave one’s home), then it deserves no audience. I digress. But no more so than Jonathan Marc Sherman, who too often simply marks time in his meandering dialogue and can’t decide whether it is a simplistic comedy about the anxiety of parenthood or a peek at existential survival.

Sherman unsuccessfully tries to marry the two in his series of scenes, which each feature Jerry, a 40-something New Yorker, in separate conversations with his pregnant wife, two friends, ex-girlfriend, and father. The supposed glue between the scenes is the unborn child and the fears it precipitates, but Sherman also tosses in a monologue in which Jerry tells the audience in direct address about the sweetly absurdist plight of Roy Sullivan, who, after having been struck by lightning seven times during his life, committed suicide due to a broken heart. There is an interesting idea here, one that perhaps Woody Allen could wrest into comic truthfulness, but it is more than Sherman can handle.

Jerry is described as having spent his whole life as the baby in the room, and the casting of Reg Rogers in the role couldn’t be more perfect. I am not a fan of Rogers, one of whose chief attributes is a shock of youthfully undisciplined hair, but credit him with the requisite energy to keep the play moving through Sherman’s overwritten, frequently aimless babble that riffs on its own superficiality. Among the misused actors are the delightful Annie Parisse and Brooks Ashmanskas, who are chiefly foils to develop the rather unengaging Jerry.

An interminable scene finds Peter Dinklage dispensing nothing of interest as Jerry’s weed-smoking friend who embarrasses waitresses and adds, intended or not, an inescapable physical irony (he is a dwarf) to a discussion about being emotionally stunted.

The only writing to periodically merit any attention lies in the scene wherein a sublime Bob Dishy appears as Jerry’s father. But even as Dishy elevates the proceedings to natural comedy, almost on the level of Neil Simon, Sherman sabotages matters with dull talk about pubescence and an overextended joke about Jerry being uncomfortable discussing sex with his dad.

Martin attempts to enliven matters with business for the ubiquitous wait staff, but it all feels manufactured, and one can’t help but think that it is chiefly in service of giving the underutilized members of the non-Equity company something to do. He also tries, quite ridiculously, to overcome the static nature of the play (all the conversations take place in one restaurant booth) by moving the booth downstage for the last third of the play, a move that does nothing except needlessly compromise the sightlines.

It’s all in vain, though, for Sherman’s new play is in more need of a burping than a production; more deserving of a wet-nurse than an audience.


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