Lyric Is Waiting -- Theater Review

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It's easy to believe Michael Puzzo's confession in an interview that "Lyric Is Waiting" is, of all the plays he has written, his "not-so-secret favorite." And no doubt he's saying exactly what he wants to say in it. Unfortunately, he seems largely to be talking to himself.

This deeply insular play, developed at LAByrinth Theater Company's Summer Intensive and Barn Series at the Public Theater, purports to examine "a very painful codependent relationship" Puzzo once had.

Ned, his stand-in, loves Lyric, who has serious mental issues. What little plot there is gets relentlessly undercut by flights of over-ripe dialogue, too many metatheatrical exchanges with a pretty librarian who doesn't like the way Ned has written her and the embarrassing use of Bigfoot as a speaking character and a heavy-handed symbol. After 75 long minutes, Lyric gets one of the most eye-rolling onstage deaths ever, and Ned somehow finally understands that he was in the relationship because he was suffering from rescuer syndrome.

There's not much the actors can do in such a situation. Lori Prince tries to illuminate Lyric's torment, but she's asked to play far too many similar moments of madness. Brit Whittle works hard to be sympathetic as Ned but can't overcome the character's irritating self-absorption. Kelly McAndrew gives her librarian an interesting edge; she also plays other characters, with McAndrew's job complicated by the fact that sometimes the librarian is aware that she's stepping into a role, while at other times it's unclear whether she knows it. In any event, McAndrew differentiates well, particularly as Molly, the girl Ned was planning to marry before he met Lyric. Muscular Joe Masi, who must contend with an unfortunate wig and facial hair as Bigfoot, seems lost as to what to do with the character, which isn't his fault given his dialogue.

Joel Sherry's set for the tiny downstairs second space at Irish Rep is heavy on symbolism, including half a tatty sofa disappearing through the stage-right wall, an upstage hedge of greenery through which Bigfoot can make his entrances, and in front of that a number of upright wooden shafts, several of which come predictably crashing down to punctuate the play's climax. Christopher J. Bailey's lighting is surprisingly complex given the few instruments he has. Jessica Pabst's contemporary costumes are appropriate, though she doesn't do Bigfoot any favors.

Director Adam Fitzgerald keeps the emotional heat turned up throughout, but he certainly hasn't been of any help to Puzzo in getting his play to communicate. Only one thing is clear: While Lyric might be the title character, "Lyric Is Waiting" is all about its author.

Venue: Irish Repertory Theatre, New York (Through Aug. 22)
Presented by: South Ark Stage and Kef Prods
Cast: Brit Whittle, Lori Prince, Kelly McAndrew, Joe Masi
Playwright: Michael Puzzo
Director: Adam Fitzgerald
Set designer: Joel Sherry
Lighting designer: Christopher J. Bailey
Costume designer: Jessica Pabst