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Theatre in Review: Judy (Page 73 Productions/The New Ohio Theatre)

Birgit Huppuch, Danny Woloan, Frenie Acoba. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

I have seen the future and it is vague. At least, that's the prognostication offered by Max Posner in his rather baffling new play. Judy is set in the year 2040, and, as he envisions it, the world has gone through more than a few revolutions. People spend most of their time connected to laptops (called "flatscreens") that appear to be on 24/7, providing a camera view of anywhere in the world, and allowing them to "volunteer," which involves, say, remotely overseeing babies in Iran. People meet on something called Tingle. There are goggles that make the homeless disappear. You and your loved one can sign a contract guaranteeing that both of you will die on the same day.

Also, a lot of what daily life consists of today seems to have gone by the boards. A child asks, "What's a play?" She is told, "They were these events people went to around Christmastime. People recited words to each other in the same order, in the same outfits, night after night. And the speakers in the outfits practiced and arrived early and became nervous. And we would pay a lot of money to go sit." Florida is described as "just a place people used to take kids when they were sorry for something, I guess." An ingenuous youth, hearing an unfamiliar word, wonders, "What's pity?" "It's a kind of party," asserts another, equally ingenuous, young lady.

I wish I could tell you that any of this is amusing or even moderately insightful, but the future depicted here is one of crushing banality and one wearies of hearing about it almost immediately. Posner's script features an epigraph from The Three Sisters that suggests his intentions: "People will travel around in flying machines, they'll wear different-style jackets, maybe they'll discover a sixth sense and expand our perceptions, but life won't change. It will still be hard." I have no doubt that the more technology changes, the more our emotional issues remain the same -- and while nobody expects a young playwright to rival Chekhov, right out of the gate, Judy comes off as a remarkably silly and insubstantial affair, lacking both the sharp edge of satire and characters whose emotional dilemmas are worthy of one's attention.

The three siblings at the heart of Posner's play are each facing a form of midlife crisis. When we first see Timothy, he is lying on the floor, immobile, because his wife (the eponymous Judy) has left him. He is basically incapable of facing any kind of responsibility, beginning with the fact that his adopted daughter, Eloise, is beginning to have periods, which here are called "moonbloods." Tara has started her own religion, called The New Spirit, and has anointed Thursday as her day of preaching, but she doesn't appear to be particularly happy in her marriage -- we never see her husband -- and she can't decide whether or not she wants to sign one of those mutual death plans mentioned above. Kris is the survivor of a terrorist incident that took out her entire yoga class. The first scene is set on the anniversary of the event, and, as Timothy notes, there are "zillions of people, real sad outside yoga studios tonight, you know. Weeping on each other, you know. Photographs. 'Never Forget' in giant letters." At the moment, she is dealing with Markus, her computer repairman, who is half her age and in love with her.

And that's about it. Over the course of two hours, nothing really happens. Kris sleeps with Markus, but you know that their affair is headed for a dead end. Timothy frets endlessly, takes in boarders, and, for reasons I couldn't explain under pain of torture, he appears in a wheelchair covered with ladies' garments, trying to pass himself off as an old lady and fooling nobody. Eloise and Kalvin, Tara's adopted son, host a séance, during which they channel the spirits of their grandparents, who ask a number of critical questions about the way the characters live now. Overall, however, Judy is about nothing but stasis, with the characters all striking poses suggestive of cutesily expressed despair.

The dialogue aims for a kind of loopy wit. Timothy asks Kris to take over his life for a year, saying of Judy, "I think you will notice that for two days every week she is very silent. And for two days every week she is never silent. And the other days, it really depends. And it's not the same days each week, just FYI." Kris complains to Tara, "You never told them the real names for their genitals. You always gave them fake names. Willy. Woo. Woopie. Doopie-Shoopie. And then when they were old enough, you what? You said, 'Well, this has been called a penis this whole time'?" After sex, Markus nervously asks Kris if he did all right. She says, "Yes, and you know, Markus, it takes about two months to lose your virginity, so you're really just halfway...." After a little bit of this, I was ready to step into the Wayback Machine, back to 2015, when people in plays still said amusing things.

That this irritating crew quickly outstays their welcome is not the fault of the cast; in fact, I personally feel that the waste of Deirdre O'Connell's time -- she plays Kris, like the pro she is -- is an indictable offense. Danny Wolohan and Birgit Huppuch are hamstrung by the roles of Timothy and Tara. Marcel Spears is touching as Markus, but he has no spark of chemistry with O'Connell, which undermines their subplot. Frenie Acoba and Luka Kain are all right as Eloise and Kalvin.

Arnulfo Maldonado's set, a totally characterless suburban basement, is exactly what the script calls for, but it certainly isn't pleasant to the eye; this is not one of this talented designer's better achievements. Eric Southern's lighting is equally bland, as are Jessica Pabst's costumes, which suggest today's styles, frozen in aspic. Leah Gelpe's sound design mostly consists of a playlist of pop tunes and the amusing use of America's "A Horse with No Name."

There are a couple of moments when one detects a muffled comic voice, but Judy is surely the weakest offering I've yet seen at Page 73 Productions. I should add that Judy, like Godot, never shows up. Personally, I think she's got the right idea. -- David Barbour


(14 September 2015)

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