Twenty-five years from now, according to Max Posner’s new play “Judy,” there will be no more plays; cancer will be cured; cars will not need drivers; and couples will be able to arrange to die together on the same day.
Timothy’s parents died that way. Timothy and his wife Judy filed the necessary forms to make the same arrangements. But now they face a dilemma: The couple has broken up, but it’s not so easy to reverse the mutual death pact.
However tantalizing , this is not actually the premise of “Judy,” which is scheduled to run through September 26 at New Ohio Theatre. It is just a conceit that makes something of a cameo appearance.
Indeed, although the play is named for Timothy’s wife, who becomes his ex-wife, she is not even one of the six characters portrayed by the cast.
The mutual death pact that hangs over Timothy is just one of the many intriguing conceits that make cameo appearances in Posner’s play. Truth be told, the play is most interesting when absorbed as a collection of these undeveloped conceits, rather than followed for its accumulation of scenes in search of a plot.
Let’s pause here to point out that the playwright, Max Posner, is 26 years old, that “Judy” marks his New York debut, and that this is a production of Page 73, which for 18 years has been remarkably successful in its mission to identify and nurture “early-career playwrights,” many of whom have become New York literary stars. This playwright shows palpable promise, and his work, albeit in need of a dramaturg, is being showcased in an impressive production directed by Ken Rus Schmoll with a first-rate cast.
Posner has said that he came up with the idea for his play by imagining what he and his two sisters would be like when they were middle-aged. In “Judy,” Timothy (Danny Woloman) and his two sisters, Kris (Deirdre O’Connell) and Tara (Brigit Huppuch), spend a lot of time hanging out in their basements in front of their “System,” which is what the Internet has become in 2040. The siblings have plans, sometimes ambitious, more often vague, but these seem thwarted by regrets and inertia (making 2040 feel not much different from 2015.)
Timothy, the youngest, is trying to get over the break-up with his wife, and to be a good parent to his adopted 11-year-old daughter Eloise (Frenie Acoba.)
Tara is trying to start a new religion, which she has called the New Spirit, although she’s not sure she likes that name; she conducts services on Thursdays, “because, you know, we all grew up worshipping Higher Powers on Sundays, or not at all, and if we’re really to begin again, then it seems a new day is the best way.” (By “begin again,” are we meant to understand that everybody in 2040 has completely abandoned traditional religion? The entire New Spirit/new religion conceit is one of those throwaway lines in “Judy” that could be the seed for one of Posner’s next plays.) Tara has a husband that she shouts at through a closed door (we never see him.) She is also the mother of an adopted 14-year-old boy Kalvin (Luka Kain.)
The oldest sibling, Kris, lives by herself, with the memory 14 years earlier of a 9/11-like terrorist attack during yoga class that killed her then-boyfriend. She takes up with Markus (Marcel Spears), the much-younger techie that all three siblings use to fix the System. Their relationship comes closest to reaching at least subplot status — they have a couple of actual scenes together, rather than just some throwaway lines in passing — and is intriguing enough so that this too could be one of Posner’s next plays. (I may be biased here, though, because I can’t get enough of Deirdre O’Connell, a mesmerizing actress who’s been an indie theater fixture for thirty years — A Lie in the Mind, Circle Mirror Transformation, etc.)
Another promising dynamic is that between the two young cousins, who hold a couple of seances and, we find out obliquely, start pretending to be in a romantic relationship, which begins to seem indistinguishable from actually being in a romantic relationship. (The two actors are equal parts adorable and impressively professional.)
If there’s anything that unifies “Judy,” it’s the theme of the increasing difficulty that people have in communicating with one another, even as technology seems outwardly to be making communication easier. Posner brings this home effectively in various ways, including with humor. Timothy is extremely uncomfortable communicating with his daughter about her menstrual cycle, at one point pretending to be his (non-existent) twin brother, in order to try to communicate with her.
But theme alone is rarely enough to make a play cohere, and there is a random, rushed feel to the goings-on in the four scenes of “Judy,” which take place in the first four months of 2040. I wanted to linger. I also wanted to hear more about the special goggles that make homeless people disappear; and the mattresses that people can sleep inside of, not just on top of; and the new devices that measure how much time people interact with one another in person as opposed to via screen, and that break into percentages the main categories of that interaction (speaking, flirting, listening.) I wanted to hear more about Kalvin’s claim that “kissing hasn’t changed” and Kris’s counterclaim that it has – or was it Kris’s dead mother’s counterclaim, speaking through Kris? That could be one of Max Posner’s next plays.
New Ohio Theater
Written by Max Posner
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonaldo, lighting design by Eric Southern, sound design by Leah Gelpe, costume design by Jessica Pabst
Cast: Deirdre O’Connell, Birgit Huppuch, Danny Wolohan, Frenie Acoba, Luka Kain, and Marcel Spears.
Running time: 2 hours, including a 15 minute intermission.
Tickets: $15 to $40
Judy is scheduled to run through September 26, 2015