Directions for Restoring the Apparently Dead
Martin Casella’s "Directions for Restoring the Apparently Dead" was the winner of the 2013 Pride Films and Plays (PFP) Great Gay Play Contest. In its world premiere production, directed by David Zak, PFP might not quite have captured the spark that won Casella’s play the award.
The piece takes its title from a vintage public service announcement delineating the steps for administering CPR. The theme of drowning, both literal and metaphorical, runs throughout the play, which brings two American childhood friends to England’s Lake District for a conversation decades in the making.
Griff, the all-American boy, has spent the whole of his friendship with Jinx drowning in self-loathing, addiction, homophobia, Mormonism, self-destructive behavior and marriage to a woman whom he cares for, but does not love. Jinx, in contrast, has found professional and financial success, as well as a fulfilling long-term relationship, despite his unresolved feelings for Griff.
The play cuts back and forth in time, as Jinx tells the long, painful story of the friendship to his partner, Richard. In turn, Griff tells Jinx the story of how he explained the trip to his wife, Bea, and later relates the various ways in which he has failed her throughout their marriage, up to and including "vanishing" on her in the same way he has vanished on Jinx in their intermittent thirty-year relationship.
The story is engaging and more skillfully constructed than many plays that unfold in non-chronological order. Overall, it’s funny, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and flawed. It’s not always easy to tell whether awkward moments are attributable to the text or the production.
Ashley Ann Woods’ set design is attractive and serviceable, facilitating the seamless movement from time to time and space to space as the play demands. Raphael Schwartzman’s Lighting Design also contributes here, as well as brisk, sensible blocking and direction.
Kate Wecker’s Sound Design, unfortunately, acts as something of a negative. It stands out in its occasional, inconsistent attempts at realism, whereas so much else about the play deals in impressions.
A similar criticism might be leveled of the play itself. In some scenes, the dialogue and character interaction seems intended to capture the essence of a moment, past or present. In others, an abundance of functional, realistic business tends drag on the play’s emotional momentum.
Jinx is the strongest character, both in terms of how he’s written and his portrayal by Patrick Gannon. Gannon manages to infuse Jinx with a kind of resilient calm that is childlike, but never naive or immature. The performance is strong enough to carry some of the more contrived dialogue meant to sell Jinx’s enduring belief in and love for Griff, even in his friend’s more repellent moments, which are hardly in short supply.
As Richard, Nick Stockwell carries much of the show’s humor. Stockwell is brimming with charm and unqualified adoration for Jinx. But Richard as written seems too good to be true, as he literally urges Jinx with his dying breath to seek out Griff and find out what’s between them. Even if this is the idealized Richard of Jinx’s grieving imagination, the play is left with the problem that Richard doesn’t seem to be a fully realized character and Griff doesn’t seem to be much of a happy ending.
Similarly, Alanda Coon is good throughout as Griff’s wife Bea, the character is either reactive or part of the backdrop. The stories Griff tells are his confessions of failure and, save one scene in which Coon is very good indeed, don’t demand that we think much about her experience.
Plot-wise, the eleventh hour revelation that she is dying back in Oklahoma seems clumsy, given that the events of the play are propelled on Jinx’s end by Richard’s sudden death. Similarly the revelation that she has urged Griff to take time for himself before she begins what is likely to be her last round of treatment undercuts the stand she takes for herself and her family in the scene where Bea seems the most real.
Griff is the most problematic character, both as written and as played. Patrick Rybarczyk’s performance is muted early on. Although he and Gannon achieve some genuine moments late in the play and although Rybarczyk occasionally finds interesting rhythms in the character, he and director David Zak seem to have the most trouble unearthing reasons to care about Griff beyond "Jinx does."
"Directions for Restoring the Apparently Dead" plays through Nov. 10 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, in Chicago. For tickets or information, call 773-327-5252 or visit www.stage77.com.