You know your marriage is on the rocks when your husband would rather spend time with The Dryer than with you.
I’m not talking about any ordinary dryer, mind you, in Daniel John Kelley and Emily Plumb’s The Conveniences of Modern Living Jessica Love plays about a cute a dryer as you’d ever want to have in your home. She’s earnest, sweet, thoughtful, and yearning for the day when she can go back to Sweden – specifically the Ikea Factory – birthplace, homeland and nirvana. Till then, she’s trapped here. But you think she has it tough? Let me tell you a little about the other folks who live in the apartment she’s housed in . . .
Agnes (Maya Baldwin) and her husband Harold (Rory Sheridan) were probably very happy once. Not tremendously rich (their shabby chic apartment speaks to Maya’s ability to stretch a dollar) and not tremendously in sync (their arguments show just how emotionally unavailable they’ve become for each other) but at some point they were a family, with a son. The fact that their child has passed away is made painfully and uncomfortably clear right up front, and the sorrow of this couple hangs between them like an unused jump rope – limp and sadly symbolic of a missing son.
Agnes fills her emptiness by taking on a babysitting gig . . . and a surrogate son of sorts – as any armchair psychiatrist could tell you. Bobson (Zack Palomo) is a fabulous, energetic, engaging young boy who almost immediately falls into a fantastic (and fantastical) routine with Agnes that has a way of ALMOST going too far but stays right in the realm of “awww, adorable!” Agnes’ need to love a child and Bobson’s need to love . . . well . . . ANYONE (more on that later) make them an awkward but strongly bonded pair. When they’re playing make-believe with Bobson declaring his love for his fair maiden from the mountain top of the couch theirs can be a fun relationship to watch play out.
Meanwhile, Harold’s at home, sharing a dark room that flickers with movie-intensity . . . he and Swedish Ikea-Made Dryer are sharing an evening of old movies and simple romance. Soon enough though they get hot and heavy and before you even start to wonder how a man and a dryer can get busy . . . trust me – they make it work. Honestly though, it’s Dryer’s ability to connect emotionally with Harold that he finds most appealing. In the wake of these lonely months it’s been hard for Harold and Agnes to really connect over anything.
The Conveniences of Modern Living is an absurdist, fun tale . . . for the first half. A man finding solace with his Dryer, a woman going on “dates” to the aquarium with a 10 year old boy who can whip up a love poem while the over-splash of the dolphin pool is still puddling from his tee shirt . . . sure it’s strange but the characters are well written, thoughtfully positioned and strongly acted (particularly Jessica Love as The Dryer and Zack Palomo as little Bobson) and you can understand how loneliness, grief and even simply leading a sheltered life can make you yearn for something you think you can find with another person.
Unfortunately, Conveniences brings in two more characters -Bobson’s parents – and a few more scenes – a frantic dinner party that goes from worse to oh-come-on-now. Pacing, energy, even comedy all go out the window when Bobson’s emotionally unavailable (one might go so far as to say ‘emotionally handicapped’) parents Bettina (Tavia Trepte) and Bernard (David Ian Lee) bring this show to a grinding halt. It’s literally as if another play comes in and takes over the one you were just enjoying. The actors themselves do a fine job – and in another play they’d be very well received. At this dinner party, however, these two characters created a jarring swerve that somehow didn’t work with the first half of the show. They do, however, go a long way to explain why Bobson has developed such a clinging attachment to the first adult who’s shown him a little attention.
With fumbling, distress, and oddness the quirkiness of the first half of the play suddenly gets lost amid the acrid nastiness of these bitter parents. The beauty of the innocence of a dryer and a boy suddenly become washed away in a tide of green sheets which – though fanciful and somewhat understandable in terms of bringing a theme full circle – takes too long and moves too far from the charm that it started with.
Still, Conveniences has some wonderful performances not to be missed – and ultimately finishes with a good message about finding what you seek in your own backyard.
VENUE #10: Players Theatre