We’ve all experienced being engrossed in a book only to have the plot fall apart in the final chapter. Don’t You F**king Say a Word is the theatrical equivalent. For the first hour the characters and conversation are suitably diverting, but when the inciting incident that provokes the title phrase finally occurs, it is a faint shadow of what we’re expecting.
Playwright Andy Bragen’s background is as a solo performer. In terms of its structure, phrasing and delivery, his script mostly plays out like another monologue only with the lines divided between two people. Interrupted by an occasional exchange, Kate and Leslie speak directly to the audience, taking us through the central relationships over the course of a few years. Their fast patter creates momentum that is stronger than the described events ultimately achieve.
Sprinkled throughout the snappy script is some important if pat commentary about gender and different views towards competition. The collapse of the playwright’s case begins once the action moves from rapid scenes around New York City to a more traditional living room conversation. The centrifugal force that has kept us spinning winds down and we along with it. Breaking the fourth wall is an acceptable convention, but the same exposé doesn’t hold up when the characters are directly talking to one another. We are confronted by a barrier comprised of false tone, unbelievable mechanics and a waning interest in the characters’ circumstances.
I appreciated and then blissfully forgot the colorblind casting. It was far more difficult to overlook the selection of Jennifer Lim and Jeanine Serralles as supposed college friends who nonetheless appear 10 years apart in age. I also could not understand how two graduates of Yale’s MFA program didn’t manage to project past the third row. It is one thing to address the audience and another to speak in the hushed tones you’d actually use if you were in public conversation. As their romantic partners Russ and Brian, Bhavesh Patel and Michael Braun perfectly paint the landscape that lies between friendly rivalry and grudge match. Their quivering body language and subtle changes in timbre were realistic and familiar. (At least that’s the impression of this middle-aged female.)
The direction of Lee Sunday Evans is imaginative, defining several tough tennis matches with a series of frozen poses that work well for the constricted space and time. Her creative vision is well supported by the simple and clever sets by Amy Rubin and the no-frills costumes designed by Asta Bennie Hostetter.
Don’t You F**king Say a Word is the first production of the writer-centric ABTP. It is, therefore, doubly disappointing that it is not a fully realized piece, but rather a reflective soliloquy spread too thinly among four people and over 85 minutes. It is playing at 59E59 through December 4. For tickets and information visit https://www.ticketcentral.com/59e59/