SUNDAY - Atlantic Theater Company
"Sunday" applies a storytelling twist on the coming of age experience. Playwright Jack Thorne, Tony-winner for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” puts five millennials in a book club in a New York City walk-up apartment. The ball-busting Alice (Ruby Frankel) presides as narrative interlocutor (think internet age “Our Town” manager). Alice went to grade school with silver-spooned WASP Milo (Zane Pais), whose best-friend was middle-class African American Keith (Christian Strange). They convene on Sunday night (the worst “school night” of the week) at the flat shared by Marie (Sadie Scott), who suffered a debilitating illness in her youth, and her best friend from college Jill (Juliana Canfield). Marie and Jill interned at the same publishing house after college; Marie was rejected for full time job, but Jill got one. Complicating matters, Jill and Marie have a fluid, affectionate relationship even though Jill is sleeping with Milo. The neighbor downstairs, loner and struggling novelist Bill (Maurice Jones), warns Marie that the Sunday night book group that often results in loud partying interrupts his writing.
The book group discusses Anne Tyler’s “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant”; growing-up is the parallel topic of Thorne’s play and Tyler’s novel. The banter takes on a sort of “truth or dare” morality game. Milo queries, for example - at a junior-high dance would you accept a dance request from a classmate with Downs Syndrome? – and scratches juvenile emotional scars. Group talk heads south on the topic of “masculine toxicity” fracturing much of the civility among head-strong opinions. Long-held grudges from childhood surface; things get personal. Milo gets especially drunk; the target of his aggression is Marie, already the most fragile. The end of the loud evening, leaving Marie alone, occasions the re-appearance of Bill from downstairs. Is playwright Thorne offering more than life-is-a-bitch for these young educated adults, burdened with leftover adolescences and baggage from childhoods? (Don’t we all have some if you dig deep enough?)
The ensemble is uniformly excellent, though its vocal projection is a little compromised by a sparsely-decorated set that leaves the brick side and back walls of the Linda Gross Theater exposed, allowing some distracting sound reverberation.
Director Lee Sunday Evans creates a different kind of storytelling. The action happens sometimes in real time; sometimes Alice addresses the audience directly with the backstories of the characters. Ms. Evan is also credited as choreographer. She orchestrates the space between time lapses of the action or unspoken parts of the character’s interaction with vignettes of bold, exaggerated, often ostensibly uncoordinated movements to an electronic hip-hop score by Daniel Kluger. The choreography recalls how director John Tiffany choreographed “Let the Right One In”, but it’s looser, less formal here. What does it represent? Children in random playground play? Emotional disorder? Psychological insecurity? Atomic particles colliding in space? (I’m not sure.)
The abstract notions suggested by the choreography give way to an unexpectedly literal and tidy explanation, delivered by Alice, about how all the characters’ lives end up, which vaguely reminds me of the unforgettable coda in the last episode of HBO’s “Six Feet Under”. The point of “Sunday” finally emerges - how a moment can make all the difference in a life even though we’re unaware of it at the time. In the final scene, especially well-composed by Thorne and beautifully acted by Ms. Scott and Mr. Jones, what happens - or doesn’t - between the vulnerable Marie and loner Bill dramatizes this theme for an all too brief but poignant moment.