By the sixth scene of this 80-minute play, my attention had drifted and I thought, "All right, I get it already. He keeps hurting himself; she can't commit. They're both a mess." Joseph has a sharp way with dialogue and a compassionate eye for his hapless characters. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Broadway premiere of his "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer, but his work here is repetitious and underdeveloped. We get a few details about Kayleen's unhappy home life—mother gone, father distant—but not enough to involve us in or make us care about her neuroses. Doug's background is even sketchier. Evidently he has supportive and loving parents, but he can't stop putting himself in harm's way, emotionally or physically.
Scott Ellis' taut production and the muscular performances of Pablo Schreiber and Jennifer Carpenter fill in quite a few of the blanks. Carpenter gives Kayleen just the right combination of dark edginess and spunky wit so the character's self-destructive behavior doesn't totally alienate us. Schreiber endows Doug with intelligence and tenderness, offsetting the character's macho bravado and reckless foolhardiness.
Set designer Neil Patel transforms Second Stage Theatre's usual proscenium, creating a narrow strip for a playing area. It resembles a hospital room, with the audience seated on two sides. Ellis knows how to economically move his cast around the minimal environment for maximum impact. It's too bad the playwright was too minimal in developing the characters.
Despite its shortcomings, the script is rife with material for scene-study class, so it might be worth your while to pick up a copy. Another valuable lesson the show can teach is what a strong director and cast can do with a skimpy play.
Presented by and at Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St., NYC. Jan. 31–Feb. 20. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Tue., Feb. 1; Wed.–Fri., Feb. 2–4, evening performances are at 7 p.m.) (212) 246-4422, (800) 766-6048, or www.2st.com. Casting by MelCap Casting.