EULOGY, by Diane Ney. Directed by Harry Bagdasian. Set, Wally Coberg; lighting, Richard Moore; costumes, Elizabeth Bass. With Nick Mathwick, Kathleen Weber, Ernie Meier.
At the New Playwrights' Theatre through Nov. 15.
"Oh, Lord, look what I've done to you," says the momentarily horrified heroine of "Eulogy" to the solidly unanalytical young man whose baby she is carrying, but whose marriage proposal she is about to reject. "I've got you talking figuratively."
Although the line gets a laugh, it is, ironically enough, just the sort of observation you may have already made yourself about the three characters in Diane Ney's play, which opened Wednesday night at the New Playwrights' Theatre. None of them is really talking conversationally. While there's nothing wrong with characters who can manipulate the language deftly (see Shaw), in Ney's play the dialogue has yet to make the full leap to the stage. There is still a self-consciously literary tone to the evening; more often than not, the actors seem to be dealing with the printed, not the spoken, word.
This kind of over-articulateness is a frequent failing of first plays, which "Eulogy" is. Playwrights' new to the stage often want to fill up every corner with words, pin down every passing feeling, chisel out each floundering thought. In fact, effective dialogue is merely the tip of the theatrical iceberg (see O'Neill). The title of a Tennessee Williams' one-act work offers sage advice in this regard: The heart of our best plays is always "Something Unspoken."
Nonetheless, Ney is not without certain gifts or welcome ambitions. She has set out to write a contemporary comedy of manners, placed in Washington, that takes into account the topsy-turvy contradictions engendered in a bright young woman by a decade of liberation movements. Kay is her name. She's written a couple of books, championed feminist causes and established some demanding goals for herself. She is also strung out between two men -- Alan, an aspiring poet and her intellectual equal, and Sam, a good-natured carpenter, who merely wants to take care of her.
Deep down, Kay loves Alan, but she is carrying Sam's child. The two acts of "Eulogy" pretty much boil down to Kay sorting out her conflicting feelings. Fortunately, Ney has a sense of humor and appreciation for small ironies. When she's trapped in an argument, Kay is not above wriggling out with a decidedly anti-feminist disclaimer: "It's different with women. We have needs." By the same token, Kay also makes less endearing confessions, such as, "I have lost the art of simplicity, I can only deal with complexities." In an attempt to make Kay rigorously honest, the playwright may have neglected to make her likeable enough to merit our concern for two hours.
As Kay, Kathleen Weber gives as alert and attractive a performance as the script allows, and the men in her life -- Nick Mathwick, the poet, and Ernie Meier, the carpenter -- are both agreeable. The direction by Harry Bagdasian wisely attempts to keep things on the casual side, as if to compensate for the spontaneity lacking in the writing. As a result, there are times when one believes that these three could be young professionals, working and loving on Capitol Hill.
But more frequent are those times when one identifies whole-heartedly with Alan. Having asked Kay why she left him once, he says, "Don't be clever. Don't be literate . . . Just tell me." Hear, hear.