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The Unrepeatable Moment

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Consider The Unrepeatable Moment the crossroads of crossroads. In this collection of six short plays from John Yearley, The Barrow Group examines how life can irrevocably turn—in ways both good and bad—on singular, unexpected events, and what happens in the uncertain aftermath. That the concept is outlined in the first play, "Hating Beckett," as an explanation for why a woman keeps throwing dinner rolls at her date is largely beside the point. Yearley and his fine, economical directors, Shannon Patterson and K. Lorrel Manning, want to dig a bit deeper than that.

Just a bit, though. None the plays, written at various points from 1999 to 2015, attain the insightful, legendary, or unique status that sometimes occurs in, say, the anthology-size works of David Ives. Yearley thinks small and talks small, so the results are small, though, to varying degrees, each is pleasant and well observed.

Take "Hating Beckett," for example, which sparks from a situation familiar to every serious theatregoer: having an inordinately different reaction from your companion. Seated at a restaurant for a post-show dinner, the man (Jeremy Folmer) hated what he just saw; his girlfriend of three years (Lily Dorment, astringent and effective) loved it, and this slowly but surely leads to a fight that puts the rest of their relationship in significant doubt. Their problems run deeper than the play, of course, and Yearley smoothly draws out their lack of confidence and trust by talking around the real issues until they have no choice to emerge. It's clean, intelligent playwriting.

But it stops just short of being powerful, of probing into the intimate psychologies that first brought these two together and now threaten to drive them apart. Similar woes affect the next play, "My Father's Heart," when a mid-middle-age executive (Daniel Guggenheim) complains about his unruly, ungrateful adolescent son to a twentysomething coworker (Ryan Black), and learns that disappointment and regret between parents and children can indeed go both ways. Black wields a compelling nervousness that informs his uncomfortable, business-minded character, but the pointed interaction between the two stops short of exploding into searing revelations of growing up and understanding those closest to you can really mean.

This is also the case with "A Low-Lying Fog," in which Brant Amundson and Mike Giese play two brothers who recount a major turning point in their relationship, but an almost-total lack of action and the unsurprising obstacle around which they must work prevent it from landing a punch to the gut, even given the actors' gently understated performances. "Racist Donut," about an incident between a black boy and a white boy on the sporting field that leads to the former's mother (Jeanine T. Abraham) and the latter's aunt (Amy Loughead) commiserating about the subtle effects of systemic prejudice, doesn't come as close to its point as it thinks it does, though Abraham's depiction of unstoppered rage, which surges from a slow simmer to a rolling boil in mere seconds, is breathtaking in its force.

Tony Drazan, the star of "Slave," a man's alcohol-fueled tale of life with his teenage daughter, finds plenty of intensity in the everyday, but he has nowhere to take it; his story just doesn't seem that important. Tricia Alexander, however, does not face that shortcoming in "Horrible Person That I Am," the best (and simplest) of the plays on offer here. Jane is a 39-year-old woman who's re-entering the dating scene and discovering a natural propensity for turning off men that can be traced to recent heartbreak in her life. She longs for companionship, for more than she's allowed, but her own feelings of inadequacy are overwhelming the innate tools she obviously possesses.

Alexander's portrayal is awash in desperation, but shadowed by a straining-grin fa├žade she's propping up with every ounce of her being. When it withers under the weight of her date's obvious disapproval (the man is never seen, though Alexander makes his presence painfully known), you're pulled into her disappointment. It's not so much that she's blown her last chance—that could be dealt with—but that she has no reason to believe any other chances would turn out any differently. Has she reached the ultimate dead end?

It's difficult to know for sure. One shocking turn can demolish the path before it, yes, but it can also set off a chain reaction that leads to others that may in turn, well, turn things around. Yearley clearly gets this, and has infused each of the six plays with enough hope to keep us, like his characters, wide-eyed with enthusiasm that the best may yet be to come. This is what works most about The Unrepeatable Moment even if, too often, we, like Jane, are convinced we're going nowhere.

The Unrepeatable Moment
Through December 6
TBG Theater, 312 West 36 Street 3rd Floor
Tickets and current performance schedule: OvationTix

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