Reviewed by David Spencer
Sad but true: All That I Will Ever Be was my first experience of writer Alan Ball's canon—I've yet to catch up on his HBO series Six Feet Under or the whole of his film American Beauty (though I since, by chance, tuned in to its finishing 30 minutes). And I fear it was not the best introduction, because the new play, at the New York Theatre Workshop, is a decidedly minor entry. What compensates in a way that doesn't really make it worth the trip, but does console you while you're there, is that it's clearly the product of an assured and unique voice.
It isn't the story itself that grabs you, as it follows (yet another) gay male hustler (yawn)—this one a guy who has swarthy middle Eastern looks and uses those to concoct an exotic backstory for himself (Peter Macdissi) that plays well for clients, and too well for the one who becomes his steady lover (Austin Lysy); nor is it the rite of passage that seems to teach him the folly of affecting artifice for too long (did I remember to set my DVR for Boston Legal?); rather, it's the pieces—greater than the sum of their parts—along the way, in certain one on one encounters where relationships are expressed freshly—particularly between the lover and his estranged father (Victor Slezak), and the hustler and a senior citizen client (David Margulies). In those scenes, played to near-perfection under the direction of Jo Bonney, there is surprising detail and unexpected insight.
But on balance we have been here before (even this season, with The Little Dog Laughed) and before and before. My clock goes back as far as Find Your Way Home by John Hopkins, on Broadway in 1974 (in retrospect, I don't know if it could be rated as better; but at least it was bracingly new). What about yours?
At MCC's new home, the Lucille Lortell Theatre on Christopher Street, A Very Common Procedure by Courtney Baron tells the story about an urban New York Jewish couple (Lynn Collins, Stephen Kunkin) recalling for us the premature birth of their girl baby. Rushed into emergency surgery for correction of a heart condition, the baby dies at the hands of a "Fellow" (doctor in training) at the teaching hospital, a doctor of American upbringing but Indian descent (Amir Arison), who joins in the narrative. As the play slips, with reasonably unselfconscious effortlessness, between confessions to the audience and reenacted scenes, the story also chronicles how the wife seduces and falls in love (or thinks she does) with the doctor. Who essentially killed their baby.
Somehow this means to be a study of grief, maybe of how the mother's need to connect to the baby took her to the person who was most connected to its mortality, and can thus be a metaphor for any such misplaced post-trauma behavior, but it's really only a story of a bizarre reaction that is part hormonal/part psychological and never dramatized compellingly enough to shed light on universal human truism. Indeed, once the affair begins in earnest, the play only ratchets up the emotional heat of confrontation without likewise upping the ante on dramatic revelation.
The actors are all fine, as is the direction by Michael Grief, but the author, who seems to be talented at character and dialogue, falls way short—here at least—on story and development of theme.