Nicky Silver continues to work out his mother issues with this new play receiving its world premiere at off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre. Featuring many of the same themes and preoccupations exhibited in the playwright’s previous works, including The Lyons — which started at the same theater before moving to Broadway in 2012 — This Day Forward belies its title by going nowhere new.
The play does start off surprisingly, with a first act that resembles the sort of strained farcical comedies that populated Broadway in the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s set in 1958 in a room at New York City’s St. Regis Hotel, where the well-heeled Martin (Michael Crane) and Irene (Holley Fain) are about to spend the night after having just gotten married.
It doesn’t look like things are going to go well for the couple, who are leaving the next day for their honeymoon in Acapulco, when the visibly agitated Irene resists her new husband’s entreaties to take off her wedding dress. And that indeed turns out to be case, as Irene tells Martin, “I don’t love you.” She reveals that she’s also involved with Emil (Joe Tippett), a gas station worker whom she rhapsodizes about as being “very manly, virile.”
It isn’t long before Emil shows up, ready to claim Irene and scoffing at Martin’s complaints that she’s romanticized her uncouth lover as “some kind of Stanley Kowalski.” Fisticuffs eventually ensue, and the emotional fallout continues until the next morning, improbably involving a Polish maid (June Gable) and her bellhop son (Andrew Burnap) who ridicules his mother’s broken English.
When Act 2 — set 46 years later in 2004 — begins, what happened to Martin and Irene becomes apparent as we’re introduced to Noah (Crane), their son, and his younger lover Leo (Burnap). Noah is a successful television director pondering a move to Los Angeles, much to Leo’s distress. The elderly Irene (Gable), who’s living with Noah’s aggrieved sister Sheila (Francesca Faridany) and suffering from dementia, has gone missing. She’s eventually found at the airport, where she was intending to board a plane to Acapulco, and is returned to her children.
With the emotionally charged confrontations that ensue, the playwright shifts to his comfort zone of illustrating how parents pass their unhappiness down to their children, who more often than not turn out to be gay. But little about the proceedings feels fresh, and, with the exception of one hilarious line on that theme delivered by Irene that brings down the house, the brittle dialogue and thin characterizations aren’t very funny or interesting. Everything in the sluggishly paced play feels attenuated — the lengthy first act seems to go on forever — and drawn with overly broad strokes.
Directed by Mark Brokaw, the production can’t be faulted, with Allen Moyer’s beautifully realistic and detailed settings particularly noteworthy. The performers try mightily but are largely unable to overcome the schematic nature of their characters, although Gable is a hoot in her two roles. One can easily imagine these being played by Linda Lavin, who appeared in Silver’s The Lyons and Too Much Sun. It’s another reminder that, for this prolific playwright, This Day Forward feels like two steps back.
Venue: Vineyard Theatre, New York
Cast: Michael Crane, Holley Fain, Andrew Burnap, June Gable, Joe Tippett, Francesca Faridany
Playwright: Nicky Silver
Director: Mark Brokaw
Set designer: Allen Moyer
Costume designer: Kaye Voyce
Lighting designer: David Lander
Music & sound designer: David Van Tieghem
Presented by the Vineyard Theatre