By Nicky Silver
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“In the Name of God, I take you to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” – From “The Book of Common Prayer”
In 1958 Martin (played with an appropriate whining weakness by Michael Crane) and Irene (played with a frivolous conflicted spirit by Holley Fain) participated in a wedding – a Jewish wedding presumably. And although there are no vows spoken at a traditional Jewish wedding (those are assumed to be implicit), playwright Nicky Silver chooses to use a phrase from “The Book of Common Prayer” as the title of his new play “This Day Forward” currently running at the Vineyard Theatre. I always encouraged my playwriting students to pay attention to titles, and it is important to pay full attention to this title because it provides a substantial clue to the meaning of this new play.
In both Acts of “This Day Forward,” as in other Nicky Silver plays, the audience experiences a motherlode of misbehaving mothers. In the first act, following Martin and Irene’s wedding, Irene confesses she really does not love Martin. Her real affections are for Emil (played with the countenance of a wounded buck by Joe Tippett) the “grease monkey” at the local filling station but her mother does not approve of Emil – she approves of Martin. Irene has a conflicted understanding of love. She tells Emil, “My mother used to punish me all the time. She locked me in dark rooms and went out for days. She said it was because she loved me.” Also in Act I, mother and son duo Melka (played with perfect comedic timing by June Gable) and Donald (played with an adorable mischievous nature by Andrew Burnap) – hotel maid and bellhop – display further the mishaps of nuclear family bonding. Melka unabashedly proclaims to the distraught bride, “Love is nothing. A word you say to yourself so you feel less frightened at night. In the dark. It is air and sound and nothing at all.”
Act II fast forwards forty-six years to 2004 in Noah’s (Michael Crane) New York City apartment where Noah – son of Martin and Irene – confronts his mother (June Gable in Act II) and sister Shelia (played with wounded commitment by Francesca Faridany) about providing care for Irene who now suffers from dementia. Noah has a rather fragile relationship with his boyfriend Leo (Andrew Burnap) and the arrival of Irene – who seems to fancy Leo – puts the relationship into ruin. One wonders just how “addled” Irene is. Sheila and Noah rehearse Noah’s abused childhood. Their father would hit Noah with a belt. And Noah gets to the underbelly of Mr. Silver’s play with this: “Shared misery doesn’t make people partners. If they showed us anything they showed us that.”
“This Day Forward” is not all about dysfunction resulting from growing up with a monster mother. “This Day Forward” challenges the core of the American value system, the epicenter of the national economy, the center of the political firestorm: the American family. Mom, Dad, and the doting kids nestled all comfortably in their suburban beds. Mr. Silver is not simply making a case for a world without punishing mothers: he is making a case for a world without punishing families.
At the end of the play, Mr. Silver makes it clear that the old family system will not work for Noah and his Mom – his new on the road to Alzheimer’s Mom. There will be no “playing with her hair.” The past is finished and gone. Everything is fresh and new. When Noah says (with kindness” “No” to Irene’s request, his refusal brings her peace and the last image the audience has of this uber-mother is a peaceful smile across her up-to-then tormented face.
Under Mark Brokaw’s steady hand, the acting is uniformly excellent and the actors manage their dual roles with authentic performances. Allen Moyer’s scenic design, Kaye Voyce’s costumes, and David Lander’s lighting are all exquisite. “This Day Forward” comes with its difficulties. The second act is not as strong as the first and the magical realism at the end of the play (after Noah Exits to chase after Sheila) is completely unnecessary and weakens the strength of the play. The dysfunction of the family system will grace the stage forever. This play pushes the argument a bit further by questioning the very future of the system itself.