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picture - God's EarTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published April 18, 2008


God’s Ear

now playing Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theater

through May 18


If God’s Ear were a conventional play, it would be the old familiar one about a middle-class American family and what happens to them when their child dies; the wife suffers, the husband’s business trips multiply, and when his dalliances with the “other woman” come to an end, he returns to hearth and home, where their surviving child – privately suffering on her own – is rediscovered, and it all ends rather ambiguously, while one vaguely wonders why the husband didn’t hang onto the “other woman,” since she certainly seemed a lot more capable of having a good time than the suffering wife.


But Jenny Schwartz has not written a conventional play; she has abstracted these elements down to their essence, transformed her characters from real people into iconic images, and has stuffed into the mouths of these symbolic creatures a heightened language that comes cascading off the page onto the stage, placing us, the audience, on a veritable roller coaster of words. The only connection between a conventional play and the one Ms. Schwartz has written is that the “other woman” remains the most fascinating character.


Ms. Schwartz can write, and write brilliantly. There is a monologue, spoken by the grieving and enraged wife, which lovers of good writing will be talking about for the remainder of the season, in which she turns a series of cliche-ridden phrases and homilies into a litany of mind-bending journeys through the landscape of the addled American consciousness (“And we’ll face the music/And smell the coffee/And know where to turn/And which end is up………And hell will be freezing/And pigs will be flying…..And we’ll cross that bridge/ And bridge that gap/And bear that cross/And cross that T…..And ride off into the horse-shit”). Clearly, Ms. Schwartz can not only write but she can plow into all sorts of hidden feelings. She has been writing and she has obviously been thinking. She could, given the power of words, devastate us.


Why, then, does God’s Ear seem less a play than a compendium of verbal subterfuges?  Part of the problem is in the play itself. Her characters include a Tooth Fairy, a G.I. Joe doll, and a man dressed as a stewardess, none of whom seem like more than a half-digested idea. And she has an adult actress play a six-year-old, because, quite frankly, no six-year old speaks the way this character does (although, perhaps, if it were played by a real six-year-old, it could be hilarious and, in some ways, more moving). I do not mean to suggest that two playwrights a movement make, but Ms. Schwartz shares with Sarah Ruhl, for example, a penchant for getting to some harsh truths through whimsy and artifice, which prove to be diversionary tactics that do not, in the end, help the writer to achieve her desired results. This is one reviewer talking: I’m willing to go anywhere you want to take me, just as long as you don’t stop me dead in my tracks with too large a dose of whimsy; it is at that point I start my retreat. I understand completely that others may not see it the same way.


Part of the problem is the production. Kris Stone’s set is a sea of blue lacquered tiles that, when popped open, are illuminated from below by Tyler Micoleau’s bright and glaring little shocks, designed to keep our eyes open. It is beautiful work, but its cleverness emphasizes the style, not the heart, of the play. Of course, Ms. Stone is merely accommodating the play’s director, Anne Kauffman, who seems more concerned with the play’s rhythmic patterns than with the play’s substance, and who leads her actors, who are all extremely talented, to such metronomic excess that they finally disappear as human beings altogether and, instead, become persistent irritants. By stressing language – what is imagined to be the play’s great virtue – the play has been robbed of its drama, its people of flesh and blood.


One actor manages to escape from this verbal imprisonment, and she is Rebecca Wisocky, whose transcendent portrayal of that “other woman” is something to see. As Lenora, a lounge lizard the anxious husband picks up, Ms. Wisocky, looking like a wigged-out young Katharine Hepburn, her movements all slide and slither, does what the other actors don’t seem to get a chance to do: she takes the verbal play and transcends it, without losing any credibility as a recognizable person. This is weird music that she makes, but she plays it with full knowledge of what wonderfully absurd sounds her instrument can evoke. In real life, one night with this creature of the night could lead to insanity, to be sure. But it is so much more delicious than the dull gnomic tattoo the husband eventually comes home to.


harveyperr @


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