“You know what my watchword is? The phrase I live by?” asks Kathleen LaRoche, the self-reliant doctor-mother character in Jonathan Wallace‘s new play, A Brief History of Thyme. “Only connect,” she says, quoting E.M. Forster. She is in high earnest when she shares this information with Madson, the central character, her daughter’s older, roommate-cum-lover. And in every sense Wallace’s play – comical, fantastical, anguished – is in high earnest about the same challenge – the possibility of establishing and maintaining intimate connection with another person in this world. What Kathleen – for all her hard-headed, scientific approach to the problems of mundane living – is blind to, however, is the enormous range in which people can effect connection. For her, someone must put a ring on another’s finger and beget a child to establish meaningful connection. Anything else is evasive, illusory, disqualified. Alas for her, Madson and her daughter, the titular Thyme, do not share this view. They shack up together in an open relationship, rarely have sex, and eschew children. It’s not even a relationship to Kathleen, and she accuses Madson of stealing her daughter’s life, of creating an alternative “perfect bubble world” which enables her to avoid real life. All human worlds are bubbles, is Madson’s sage rejoinder, and unfortunately for Kathleen, the playwright seems very much in agreement. For all her best intentions, Kathleen is the furthest removed from ever understanding the riddle of her daughter, someone, in a moment of poetical abandon, she named Thyme.
Wallace has permitted himself more than a little poetical abandon in the writing of his play. The names Madson and Thyme are relevant, but brace yourself for the other major stage presences here, Horny Man and Tiara, the imaginary friend figures of, respectively, Madson and Thyme. These conjured intimates present the hidden personalities of the two sensitive, head-dwelling, socially disaffected principals. They have all the dirt on their creators and, thankfully, quite a bit of mouthy humor to share. The introduction of these two characters, who occupy an imaginary realm, affords Wallace a broad and liberal space for investigation, and permits him to gracefully shoe-horn the “big themes” into this modestly-sized, delightful screwball comedy with bitter-sweet overtones. Finally it’s not just the possibility of human connection that is explored here, but the greater backdrop our personal dramas are played out against, and those oh-so-eternal posers it throws up, such as – why? to what end? and, where-after?
“All mythology and all science originate in the disturbing noises issuing from behind the parental door” offers Horny Man. It’s an address entirely characteristic of Wallace’s style, at once grandiosely ambitious and comically pathetic. With Horny, we travel into Madson’s imagination, and are treated to an out-of-body experience beyond life, to the meta-narrative that is Life unfolding itself, describing itself as it does – the dreamtime, as characters refer to it here. In this “almost” space, Madson encounters the spirit of his dead mother, who answers his question as to whether there is an afterlife with – “There is a before life only.” It’s heady stuff, but carefully stripped of any self importance. In addressing the great questions, Wallace is just as inclined to have his wordy characters stumble against the ineffable. They experience linguistic brain freezes and can offer only physical gestures, comical in their failure to elucidate even as they shred concepts of time and place, unmooring us from notions of continuity and identity. Everything here is loaded and the patter is usually fast, but give or take a few literary references, the playwright keeps it impressively simple.
He is nimbly aided in this by Tatiana Gomberg‘s subtle direction, and the full blooded performances she draws from the actors involved. Richard Brundage is watchful and nervy as Madson, a man wholly respectful of his inconveniently evolved conscience. He’s a lover, not a fighter, though in essence the two things are much closer than might be supposed. Against his unsparing tolerance, Tanis Parenteau‘s Thyme can’t help but show as prickly, brittle, and selfish, but she holds fast to her character’s integrity. Deborah Carlson is a formidable Kathleen, effortlessly commanding the stage in character, even as the playwright gently reduces her to a figure of pathos. Much fun is being had by Collin Smith as Horny, and Allison Hirschlag as Tiara, and it’s a joy when this attractive pair get into the action. ( Can you say “Imaginary Friend Smackdown”?) The cast is rounded out by Douglas Rossi – a performance that pulls a lot of weight in some short scenes – and Julie Berndt who, amidst the verbal brawling, introduces a somewhat classical note.
Wallace shows a wide vision and great assurance in his story telling, an ability to move between the outer and inner worlds. There is much heart in this drama but, thankfully, there is as much head. He does not shy away from jagged truths – the opening and closing scenes are awash with distress. But a durable funny bone persists and a welcome, perhaps even stubborn, optimism. Which is a very good thing if you are writing comedy. Whether it does or doesn’t make us happier, we should be grateful. The Howling Moon Cab Co. are very much on board. In writing this comedy, Wallace has done a very good thing.
~~~ A Brief History Of Thyme
Benefiting: The Aids Quilt Produced by Howling Moon Cab Company Written by Jonathan Wallace Directed by Tatiana Gomberg
$18 General Admission $9.00 for Film/Music Participants FREE for Theatre Festivity Participants
Wednesday 5/30/12 – 9:00pm = Performance #1 Saturday 6/2/12 – 4:00pm = Performance #2 Monday 6/4/12 – 5:00pm = Performance #3 Monday 6/11/12 – 8:00pm = Performance #4 Saturday 6/16/12 – 2:00pm = Performance #5 Friday 6/22/12 – 10:00pm = Performance #6 90 minutes At Bleecker Street Theatre (Downstairs) 45 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012 Conveniently located near: Bleecker St (4 & 6) Broadway – Lafayette St (B, D, F, M) Prince St (N, R) click here to purchase tickets