'Sunday': Theater Review

Sunday - Production still - H 2019
Monique Carboni
Millennial navel-gazing at its most tedious.

The twentysomething members of a book club reveal their thoughts and insecurities in the new play by Jack Thorne, the Tony-winning author of 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.'

The good news about the new play by Jack Thorne is that it features an absolutely terrific 20-minute scene that could easily stand alone. The bad news is that you have to sit through 70 minutes of utter tedium to get to it.

Receiving its world premiere at off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company, Sunday is the latest work from the Tony Award-winning writer of the two-part London and Broadway hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the acclaimed stage adaptation of the horror film Let the Right One In. (He also wrote the book for the misbegotten Broadway musical King Kong, but the less said about that, the better). Thorne also has a new version of A Christmas Carol coming to Broadway in November, and his adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials will premiere the same month on HBO and BBC.

Set over the course of one night, Sunday depicts the meeting of a book club consisting of five twentysomethings at the New York City apartment shared by roommates Marie (Sadie Scott) and Jill (Juliana Canfield). A massive pile of books sits in the center of the living area, but an even stranger sight is the young woman perched in a recessed space high over the stage. She turns out to be Alice (Ruby Frankel), who is both one of the book club's members and the play's narrator.

The club, which we're informed started as a "post-ironic joke," gathers together for a discussion of Anne Tyler's 1982 novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. It doesn't seem to have been the best choice, judging by several members' complaints that they next want to tackle "something substantial." (You'll be relieved to know that an unfamiliarity with the book won't prove a hindrance, since the ensuing commentary about it proves banal and unenlightening.)

That conversation, periodically fueled by vodka, marijuana and cocaine, frequently wanders off into such inexplicable tangents as a lengthy hypothetical discussion of what each person would have done as a teenager if approached to dance at a party by someone with Down's syndrome. There is one topic, however, that's strictly forbidden: "We're not allowed to talk about our president, ever," Alice informs us solemnly.

Although it's admittedly a relief to be spared any Trump references for an evening, they might have been preferable to what actually takes place. "We're wry and ironic and dull," Alice comments about herself and the other characters at one point, and boy, has she hit the nail on the head. In a bizarre attempt at stylization, the play features the young people occasionally interrupting their discussion with hyperactive dance breaks. As staged by director-choreographer Lee Sunday Evans, they're less suggestive of youthful angst than poorly controlled psychotropic medications.

What those interludes are meant to suggest is anyone's guess. But really, the play's entire reason for being is indiscernible, unless, like the club, it started out as a post-ironic joke. The playwright certainly doesn't convey any affinity for most of his characters, especially Milo (Zane Pais), the token rich kid who grew up in luxury and is unsurprisingly revealed to be an arrogant jerk, blatantly coming on to his girlfriend's roommate.  

The laziness of the writing becomes evident through the narration, which reveals the characters' backstories in considerable detail, as if the playwright couldn't be bothered to work them organically into the proceedings. More egregiously, we're informed of all their fates at the conclusion, even though we're barely invested in them. (The device proved deeply poignant at the series conclusion of HBO's Six Feet Under, but by that point we had come to know and love the characters over the course of five seasons.)

It's only in the second of what feels like two tenuously connected one-acts that the evening comes to life. After the meeting ends, Marie is left alone in the apartment and quickly devolves into solitary drinking and tears. Her anguish is interrupted by Bill (Maurice Jones), her older upstairs neighbor, previously introduced in a brief scene at the play's beginning.

The ensuing conversation between the two lonely people proves funny, sexy and ultimately poignant; they are clearly deeply attracted to each other but somehow unable to connect. Beautifully acted by Scott and Jones (the latter delivering the evening's most natural, soulful performance), the scene gives a haunting indication of what Sunday could have been.

Venue: Linda Gross Theater, New York
Cast: Ruby Frankel, Sadie Scott, Maurice Jones, Juliana Canfield, Christian Strange, Zane Pais
Playwright: Jack Thorne
Director-choreographer: Lee Sunday Evans
Set designer: Brett J. Banakis
Costume designer: Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene
Lighting designer: Masha Tsimring
Music: Daniel Kluger
Sound designer: Lee Kinney
Presented by Atlantic Theater Company