“Commit” at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ (Closed Saturday June 7, 2014)

May 31, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
By EJC Calvert
Directed by Mason Beggs
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

EJC Calvert’s new play “Commit,” currently running at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ, is a dark comedy written in three acts. Each act carefully dissects the vicissitudes of the human condition, in particular the abilities of humankind to commit themselves to a variety of relationships despite their prolific and sometimes unsettling flaws. Three creatures appear in the titles and in the action of the three acts: a bear, lamb, and a bird. And each varmint serves as a delicious trope for the unpredictable and cantankerous nature of humankind in its journey through love, loss, and redemption.

In “The Bear: A Tragedy” (Act One), grumpy-as-a-bear Everett Feld blames his irrational and aggressive behavior on a hormonal imbalance but eventually admits it is not “his testes” that are the causative agent: he tells his forbearingly overbearing wife Diane that indeed he has been possessed by a “bear’s spirit.” Diane believes a good dose of church would cure all that ails Everett and plops an enormous cross on the dining room table: the cross made by estranged son Jimmy who is now a priest and arrives to perform an exorcism to rid his father of the demon spirit that has apparently possessed him. Although his parents continue to call him Jimmy, their son insists he is now Father Kellogg – the new last name adopted to distance him from the unsavory pair that spawned him. In the midst of the exorcism, all hell breaks loose and the bear in Everett gets the best of him resulting in Jimmy’s brutal demise, Diane’s retreat, and the establishment of a “bear” support group. Dark indeed, but quite funny as performed by the engaging ensemble cast.

Act Two’s “Murder, Love and Lamb” finds serial killer Robert and his wanna-be-stripper wife Marjorie embroiled in a bitter dispute about Robert’s penchant for murder. Robert’s recent murder of a sex worker has dampened Marjorie’s plans to have dinner guests and serve up a good Riesling with some roast lamb. This is a couple as odds with one another and their “inner child” and their struggles to connect – even despite Marjorie’s willingness to “love who Robert is – flounder. Their journey, far more than mid-life crises – counterpoint the despair, ennui, and sometimes destructive nature of human relationships. Perhaps “the “sacrificial lamb” will bring redemption to Robert and Marjorie and release them from their cycles of self-hatred and destructiveness. Again, the ensemble cast does justice to Mr. Calvert’s text exploring its darkness and mining all evidences of hope.

“A Bird Hits the Window” – Act Three of “Commit” – features John who comes home early after being fired and encounters his daughter home from school after being expelled. Mother and wife Mona joins the mix and exacerbates the obvious gaps in this family’s abilities to find comfort and surcease in their American family unit. Although his daughter yearns for attention from her father, John’s only parental mantra is “I have no one to talk to.” This family exists in photos and a past when marriage and pregnancy was thought to result in happiness. Ms. Calvert’s use of a flashback to a pregnant Mona is effective and provocative: what happened to that hope, that commitment to future. Like birds who when distracted by reflections fly into windows, people distracted by selfishness and self-absorption often fly into their own false perceptions of who they are and who they have become and suffer sometimes irreparable damage to self and others.

There are times when the very live acoustics in the Mana Contemporary space make it difficult to catch every word the actors deliver and the actors sometimes compensate by delivering their lines in a consistently loud manner. But it is difficult to hear when actors speak softly – as they often want or need to. In the third act, for example, director Mason Beggs chooses to have the daughter address her father with her back to the audience and not one word of her part of that dialogue is audible. Mana Contemporary is an iconic and important space; however, if this particular performance venue is to be used for live theatre, there will need to be compensation made for this acoustical problem. The space is probably ideal for dance or performance art where spoken word is far less evident.

“Commit” shows the audience a humanity that can be gentle as a lamb (and as redemptive) or as aggressive and sometime murderous as a hungry, misdirected and threatened bear. In all three acts, the level of commitment extant in human relationships is examined and questioned: is marriage the haven of blessing and place of peace it is assumed to be? Why do humans marry and why do they have children they often have difficulty relating to? What is the real tie that binds humans to one another? Are we perhaps meant to navigate through this life alone, depending only on ourselves? These and a score of other deep and rich enduring questions are raised in Ms. Calvert’s new play and the delightfully wicked cast of the Art House production skillfully bring every nuance in “Commit” to an entertaining, authentic, and delightful hour of superb theatre. Be sure to see “Commit” before it closes on June 7, 2014.