AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Jonathan Marc Feldman
Presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre
Directed by Rick Lombardo
San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA / (408) 367-7255

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Traumatized by losing several loved ones over the years and by seeing people leap from the Twin Towers on 9/11, a brilliant young novelist has retreated to the perceived safety of his New York apartment for the past two years. That's the premise of "The Death of the Novel" by Jonathan Marc Feldman, being given its world premiere by San Jose Repertory Theatre to open its 33rd season.

When we meet the novelist, 26-year-old Sebastian Justice (Vincent Kartheiser of TV's "Mad Men"), he's talking with the psychotherapist ordered by his agent in hopes of ending his writer's block and overcoming his agoraphobia. Much as Perry (Amy Pietz) tries, though, she can't break through his cynical, sarcastic barriers. He might also be overwhelmed by the success of his first novel and afraid of not equaling it.

Also unable to break through Sebastian's barriers are his longtime friend, Philip Patrick Kelly Jones), and a hopeful writer, Claire (Zarah Mahler), an expensive hooker who visits him weekly. Actually, she doesn't really try to break through. She's just an outlet for him.

Not until the lovestruck Philip introduces him to his latest girlfriend, the beautiful, mysterious Sheba (Vaishnavi Sharma), does Sebastian gradually reveal his feelings. And even then, it takes a long time, well into the second act, for him to make much headway. In the meantime, he and Sheba do have a terrific time during five weeks of playful fantasy.

Although artistic director Rick Lombardo has assembled a fine cast and paces the action well, the play tends to drag, especially in the first act when Sebastian is given to long speeches that can be repetitious. Consequently, he comes across as a smartass, making it difficult to care much about him. He's more sympathetic in the second act, which works better because events unfold more quickly.

Sheba is an intriguing woman, especially when Sebastian goes to Google and Facebook and discovers she might not be the native Saudi woman she says she is. It turns out that she's mentally disturbed, too, harboring various delusions that may or may not make her dangerous. Certainly psychotherapist Perry warns Sebastian about her.

John Iacovelli has designed a handsome set of brick walls and an expanse of glass offering a view of the brick buildings across the street and the New York skyline behind that. It also revolves to reveal Sebastian's bedroom. The mood-setting lighting is by David Lee Cuthbert with smart costumes by Denitsa Bliznakova. The music and sound by Haddon Givens Kime generally work but can sometimes be intrusive.

If Feldman had made Sebastian seem a bit more concerned about his situation rather than so cynical in the first act, the play might work better overall. Still, the playwright does wrap things up rather nicely.

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