By Scott C. Sickles; Directed by Fritz Brekeller
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.24.17
The Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street
by Shoshana Roberts on 6.5.17
C.K. Allen and Robert Bruce McIntosh in Composure. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
BOTTOM LINE: A convoluted drama showing wonderful fragility and pain within middle-aged men in heterosexual and homosexual relationships, while the characters deal with a multitude of tough subjects.
Waiting for Scott C. Sickles' new play Composure to begin, I was already deep in thought. Definitions for “composure” are projected onto the set: 1. The appearance or feeling of calm, 2. The ability to control one's emotions, 3. Steadiness of mind under stress. Each is one hundred percent applicable to this production, where one event after another demands composure. The thing is, do you remember the last time you had to make a point of actively keeping your composure? It is not always an easy task. Sometimes we hit a breaking point. What is most interesting in Sickles' work is his choice to give each character a different threshold for the ability to keep their composure under extreme circumstances.
Composure starts off with a bang... literally. There's a school shooting, with several casualties. While we don't see the actual shooting, we hear the shots as we watch how those nearby are affected. Beth (Christine Verleny) is on the quad with her two daughters, so close they must get on the ground to avoid being hit by the bullets. The event does not help Beth's already nervous nature and low self esteem. Beth is on the phone with her controlling and cocky husband Tommy (Rob Ventre); although he hears the shots, he is not affected as much, and all signs point to a troubling marriage. Meanwhile, at a café next to the campus are Jeff (C.K. Allen) and his now ex-wife Amanda (Susan Izatt), who are divorcing after a fourteen-year marriage due to Jeff realizing that he is gay.
One year later, the university has made the unpopular choice to put on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet right next to where the deaths took place. Alumnus Fletcher (Robert Bruce McIntosh) is in town to direct the play. Thanks to Fletcher's painful history with Tommy and his new relationship with Jeff, what follows is a roller coaster ride of emotions. As we watch each character deal with hardship, all plot lines return to Fletcher. He tries to "fuck Tommy out of [his] system" while simultaneously starting a relationship that seems to have an expiration date. Fletcher even warns Jeff that "six weeks is pretty long for a whirlwind romance. I mean it's five more than Romeo and Juliet got. We should just... enjoy it." But who is to know what is true love and what is just needed to help Fletcher keep composure in his repeated run-ins with Tommy.
One of my favorite parts of Composure is the team's choice to fully utilize their space. A few scenes even incorporate turning on the house lights so the audience becomes students listening to a lecture. It is wonderful choice that draws the audience in early on. When Jeff asks Fletcher to go on a date with him, there is a rawness and realness that shows how nervous, yet bold, we can be at the beginning of a relationship; it's a sweet scene I will remember for a long time. There is also Elizabet Puksto's ingenious set design, in which large, tetris-like pieces are moved around to become various locations and the backdrop for projections. The set is clearly symbolic—some of the pieces fit together, while others definitely do not. Director Fritz Brekeller makes another clever choice to use the projections to portray varying emotions. For example, during one scene change, as the large set pieces are moved around, the picture of a man projected onto them is distorted and re-aligned.
Composure covers a vast array of subjects: death, unrequited love, constellations, school shootings, Shakespeare, closure, the affect of time on wounds of the heart and body, controlling partners, casual sex, intimacy, childhood trauma, life imitating art, and our ability to heal. Though I enjoyed myself, especially the aspect of middle-aged men exhibiting vulnerability and exploring their sexuality (something I have rarely seen onstage), Composure feels a bit too convoluted and disjointed. Certainly, trauma affects people in different ways, but it nevertheless doesn't leave you. So it is frustrating to see inconsistencies in some of the characters' reactions to events, and how the realistic portrayals suffer when a character's trauma conveniently disappears whenever it doesn't suit the scene.
With wonderful connections and intriguing subplots, Composure could still benefit from another edit so we can better explore some of the relationships. There is lots of good material here, but I just don't feel like we are given a chance to fully explore the interesting connective tissue tying each of the characters together. Yet Brekeller and Sickles do not shy away from emotion. In Composure, one event after another incorporates extremely difficult subject matter and demonstrates what Fletcher describes as the lesson that Romeo and Juliet can teach his cast: the “insanity and fragility... and necessity... of love.”
(Composure plays at The Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, through June 24, 2017. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $25 and are available at workshoptheater.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
Composure is by Scott C. Sickles. Directed by Fritz Brekeller. Set Design is by Elizabet Puksto. Lighting Design is by Diana Duecker. Sound Design is by Ian Wehrle. Costume Design is by Anthony Paul-Cavaretta. Stage Manager is Lisa R. Stafford.
The cast is C.K. Allen, Susan Izatt, Rob Ventre, Christine Verleny, Robert Bruce McIntosh, Cliff Miller, and J. Warren Weber.