Writer: Lizzie Vieh
Director: Maria Dizzia
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
Sometimes, after several years of marriage and one bout of prostate cancer, a couple needs to enliven existence and find a way to constantly inject newness into their lives. Wendy and John, commendably played by Leigh Williams and Maurice Jones, is that exact couple in Lizzie Vieh’s world premiere, The Loneliest Number. For almost the last year, Wendy and John have been inviting a new third person into their life and bedroom every month, taking turns choosing the invited outsider. Things had been progressing smoothly enough, until Kevin from Wendy’s office (Justin Yorio) and Arianne who works part-time at the dry cleaner (Cassandra Paras) show up for back-to-back months carrying unexpected surprises and baggage of their own. What happens to the married couple that invited romantic disruption into their lives without taking other people’s humanity into account? Not much, ultimately, based on the current iteration of Vieh’s script. Though perhaps it would be better to say that a lot might happen, but just like Dorothy Gale after her journey through Oz, they’ll always end up back at home.
The Loneliest Number is an engaging play that explores several rarely-asked questions, and Vieh’s writing deftly straddles the line between comedy and tragedy. All four actors embody their characters, presenting three-dimensional humans to the audience. Maria Dizzia, in her directorial debut, does a good job building the big picture, though there are several blocking and scene-change choices that appeared to not have been well-reasoned (noticed all the more in contrast to the stronger moments throughout the production). Frank J. Oliva’s set design and Ali Hall’s lighting work in concert to bring us from city apartments to neighborhood bars to a hospital waiting room. Nick Abeel’s sound design is well thought out but occasionally overpowering.
Touching on issues like adoption, cancer, and suicide, and most specifically how a person’s experience with these possibilities affects their psychological development, this production should be applauded for its handling of uncomfortable topics without overshadowing the human relationships at its center. It is upon delving into these specific relationships, however, that some seams begin to come undone. There are several moments among the various permutations of the four characters during which a deeper exploration of relationships and our humanity in a shared world are ultimately brushed aside to move forward through the play’s next scene. Characters make choices that seem at direct odds with the person they’ve otherwise been drawn to be, including the play’s ending, which wraps things up too neatly for Wendy and John after everything they’ve been through, and put Kevin and Arianne through.
Raising questions and inciting discussion are definite strengths of this production, though its messages would be more forcefully received if it offered more thorough scrutiny and yet left more of its own questions unanswered. Still, this is an affecting and valuable production, worth following through hopefully further development.
Runs until 10 March 2018 | Image: Sandra Mhlongo