By: Paulanne Simmons
October 7, 2019: Jack Thorne’s new play, Sunday, making its premiere at Atlantic Theater Company, is about a group of 20-somethings, members of a book club, who meet one Sunday to discuss Anne Tyler’s novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. And so we know right away there’s a problem here. Young people, for the most part don’t read, and even if they do, they don’t join a book club, even if they call it a “post-ironic joke.” Clearly, that’s for their parents, or worse yet, grandparents.
In the world of Thorne, however, these almost adults are so in love with books they’ve decided to turn off their cell phones and only check them at designated times. Such self-policing is admirable. Most college professors would be grateful if their students showed even a fraction of this restraint in class.
Extending the theme, the play is set in the apartment of roommates Marie (Sadie Scott) and Jill (Juliana Canfield), in a room that’s dominated by a veritable wall of books. It seems not only do these young people read books; they actually treasure them, or at least keep them. Later in the play, Marie explains she merely “accumulates” the books. But even that seems a bit beyond the inclinations of a typical twenty-four-year-old.
And finally, if none of the above is enough to throw the play and the audience off-track, at one point, Marie’s friend (and the narrator), Alice (Ruby Frankel), tells us Marie masturbates while picturing Burt Lancaster, an actor who died in 1994 at the age of 80. Really?
But even if, despite all this, you think Thorne, a 40-year-old British playwright, is in touch with American youth (after all it’s not at all impossible, and he did have enormous success with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), the play leads inevitably to the conclusion he is not.
With Keith (Christian Strange), a middle-class African American, and Milo (Zane Pais), the scion of a wealthy, white family, thrown into the mix, the book club meeting proceeds like most parties fueled by youth, drugs and alcohol. Friends find each other’s vulnerabilities and dig in. Allegiances shift. Sexual aggression and anxiety are constantly rearing their horny head. And, most certainly, the conversation is dominated by the males in the room
Anyone who didn’t hide under a mushroom during their early twenties will recognize this gathering with a touch of horror. Why on earth attribute such behavior to today’s youth?
Perhaps someone on the creative team recognized that this Sunday was somewhat stale and decided to provide more action. That’s the only possible reason for the choreographed dancing director and choreographer Lee Sunday Evans has created for the play.
Of all the characters, Marie, who lost two years of school as a result of extreme allergies and has to fend off a mother who is at the same time over-protective and over-careless, is the most developed. She’s the one who deals with the upstairs neighbor, Bill (Maurice Jones), who is worried the book club’s activities may keep him awake. And she’s the one he (unsuccessfully) tries to comfort when everyone leaves.
It even seems for a short while that Bill may be the Messiah who will save Marie from her self-destructive tendencies. But it would take more than the Messiah to save this play.
Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th Street in NYC.
Tue 7pm, Wed—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. $66.50—$86.50.
www.atlantictheater.org or www.ovationtix.com.
Photography: Monique Carboni