By: David Sheward
In Judy, Max Posner’s melancholy and moving new play from Page 73 at the New Ohio Theatre, the future is pretty much like the present, only more so. Relatives are friends in the Facebook sense-disembodied voices and comments, images on screens, disconnected, fragile and lonely. We’re in the year 2040 in the suburban basement of three adult siblings. One nondescript set (designed with eerie minimalist accuracy by Arnulfo Maldonado) serves as the single environment of this drifting trio. Technology has shattered the psyches of Timothy, Tara, and Kris who sit alone at separate computer screens attempting to find comfort in cyberspace.
Each has suffered a devastating loss. Timothy’s wife, the unseen Judy of the title, has left him. Tara is launching a new religion through the Internet to fill void of her sterile marriage to Saul (also offstage) and to avoid dealing with her troubled adopted son Kalvin. The eldest sibling Kris is still dealing with survivor guilt for living through a mass murder at a nationwide chain of yoga studios 14 years ago. (The event is referred to as “1-16” for the day it occurred in a pointed echo of 9-11.) She finds temporary relief with Markus, a much younger man who services the “System” which runs the web and power for the entire community. (Though having a human technician make house calls seems an inconsistent impossibility in Posner’s impersonal world.)
Posner combines a wicked satiric sense with compassionate observation. His characters are simultaneously ridiculous and pathetic. In one hilariously sad scene, Timothy covers himself in Judy’s clothes, sits a wheelchair used by his late parents, and attempts to communicate with his distant teenage daughter Eloise by pretending to be a long-lost twin brother, reasoning Eloise will open up to a stranger in a way she wouldn’t with her authority-figure dad. Timothy’s clumsy efforts at reaching out and Eloise’s confused but perceptive response are riotously funny and touching.
Director Ken Rus Schmoll skillfully combines these two strains in a subtle staging and the cast plays their absurdist aims straight, reacting seriously in a crazed universe. Danny Wolohan is a desperately intense Timothy, Birgit Huppuch a cool but frazzled Tara, and the incomparable Deirdre O’Connell’s expressive features illuminate Kris’ pain. Marcel Spears is equally eloquent in his emotional reactions as the sensitive Markus. Frenie Acoba and Luka Kain display talent beyond their years as the struggling kids Eloise and Kalvin.
At times Posner is too clever for his own good. He occasionally points out his futuristic devices and themes too obviously as in the climactic seance scene where Eloise and Kalvin summon forth the spirits of their grandparents. All societal changes are explained to the ghosts (impersonated by Timothy and Kris) as if the author is saying, “See, here’s the point I want to make about today’s tech advances blighting human relationships.” Fortunately, Posner keeps a lid on this telling rather than showing and Judy is mostly an absorbing and scary peak into our future and an unflinching comment on the present.
Sept. 10-26. New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher St., NYC. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Running time: two hours including intermission. $30-$40. (866) 811-4111 or www.ovation.com. Photos: Jeremy Daniel