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A CurtainUp Review
by Kathryn Osenlund
The Wilma Theater's Canada connection is alive and well as they hold the U.S. Premiere of Patience by Jason Sherman. This is at least the fourth play by a Canadian playwright to be presented at the Wilma in the last year or so. Others include David Gow's Cherry Docs, Robert William Sherwood's Spin, and Judith Thompson's Perfect Pie .
In this play Reuben (David Chandler), an exec type, right in the middle of his hectic, self-centered life, encounters a former friend, Paul, in his regular Chinese restaurant. Paul perhaps can best be described as otherworldly. He says he's moving to Vancouver to start over. He claims to be writing a screenplay about a man who has everything and then loses it. He asks Reuben about how he's been doing and if he has all he needs and needs all he has. How's the wife, and so forth. Reuben is somewhat perplexed by the friend's line of patter. He admits that his life has become dominated by routine, in which he finds comfort, and he insists there is no loss of passion in the setting up of a few daily routines. He soon remembers the conversation for a number of reasons, just one of which is that immediately after it he begins to lose everything.
Reuben isn't prepared for disruption or change, particularly negative change. He doesn't understand a lot of things. One of his brothers dies and he wonders what his brother got for being a good man. Dead? His other brother, Phil (Jeffrey Hayenga), a nutty professor of physics who has moved to Florida and lives with a teenager, tries to relate to Reuben.
Throughout the play we watch Reuben go through stages: First he's revved, connected, busy. Then he's a beleaguered Fonz - Ben Stiller, and finally a world-weary, scotch and cigarette-voiced Bogart. He develops crazy theories about what happened to him and why. He becomes obsessed with trying to pinpoint the exact moment his life went wrong.
The play has a bewildering mix of scenes, some real and some that take place in Reuben's imagination. It's hard to say if Reuben ultimately understands anything, but he does change from just a suit to a person who decides to have no relationships with anyone because he can't trust himself not to go for the jugular. He fears he would only hurt them.
At a fateful party, which had occurred ten years earlier than the scenes at the opening of the play, and to which the play returns from time to time, his friend Paul says he has decided to go on with life, despite a bad event that has happened. Paul accepts a toast from Reuben, who has not been much of a friend to him. Paul resolves that he will relish life. The play leaves us with these thoughts, which had been uttered long before the current events in the play.
The set is impressive. It's a modern, minimalist design that's versatile and beautiful. Not only is the set just perfect for the production, with its shades of black, gray, metallic, and reflective surfaces, the sound FX are incredible, intricate, and perfectly timed.
When Act Two opens, though, it looks like a different play. We discover it's three months later in Florida. The furniture is light wood and light upholstery, and we learn it's from Ikea (shades of Fight Club with its Ikea ads). A restaurant, train platform, and places from Act One all blend in and share the space. It is a pretty incredible set/light combo. The way space is used suits the way time is presented, which is with a certain license and fluidity. The space is sometimes used without regard to the location on the set, as in a rambling conversation with a Marx Brothers- wannabe rabbi, who actually sheds some light on life and reality for Reuben as he consults with Yahweh on his cell.
Directed by one of Philadelphia's most prominent directors, Blanka Zizka, Patience moves at a clip and never gets tedious or bogged down. David Chandler as Reuben is remarkable. Jeffrey Hayenga plays a great Phil, an entertaining weirdo. Jay Edwards as Paul --and others including the rabbi-- is so good you don't know it's the same actor in different roles. Lise Bruneau (as Sarah) and Sonja Robson (as Donna) also deliver masterful performances. Christina Ross as Liz, a concert pianist with a nervous disorder, needs to play the piano with more virtuosity to make that part of her role believable. As the young thing, though, she is right on target.
There are some great lines,""What are you, an art film?" and a lot of constructions that involve repetition, for example: someone speaks, the other says "What?" The thing is re-phrased. The other may get it or repeat "What?" There are lots of cell phones and some funny and some incomprehensible touches -- like cross dressing corporate execs. Patience, as in "the patience of Job" is an odd title for this sometimes baffling play in which the Job figure (well, at least a Job in the losses department) is anything but patient, where there's no promise of healing, and where he may just change from one kind of problem guy into another.