By Erin Mallon; Directed by Mark Cirnigliaro
Produced by Mile Square Theatre and The Collective NY
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 12.30.18
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Dan Rubins on 12.17.18
Eve Johnson and Richard Masur in The Net Will Appear. Photo by Jody Christopherson.
BOTTOM LINE: An unlikely pair of friends meet atop their neighboring roofs in this small-scale, well-acted story.
There’s a new Odd Couple in town. He’s grouchy Bernard, coming outside only to drink whiskey and stick mousetraps in the nearby tree to catch sparrows. She’s fourth-grader Rory, the neighbor with boundless spunk and a dalmation named Joy Behar, and all she really wants is a friend and an air hug.
In The Net Will Appear, Erin Mallon’s warm but predictable play, these unlikely companions climb out of their windows onto side-by-side roofs to chew the fat in a series of scenes that span a year of their lives. Rory, played with astonishing verve by Eve Johnson, is a child who’s had to grow up fast; Bernard, rendered endearingly by Richard Masur as a foul-mouthed, Scroogey diamond-in-the-rough, takes to his late middle age with childlike obstinacy. With more than just the few feet between their ledges separating them, Mallon gradually guides the duo to meet somewhere in the middle.
The pairing sparkles most delightfully when Johnson and Masur play off each other, as when Rory begins to imitate Bernard’s tired grunt that he lets out whenever he heaves himself out of his chair: it “makes standing up feel special,” she tells him. And there’s a wistful one-sidedness in the moments when Rory shares with Bernard how much she’s hurting—his own unhealed wounds prevent him from providing the reassurance she craves.
Masur’s and Johnson’s open-hearted, intelligent performances and Mark Cirnigliaro’s thoughtful, understated direction polish up a play that occasionally treads water while in search of fresh ideas: even these lively rooftop conversations can run dry at times. Mallon’s humor can also be somewhat hit-and-miss, especially when it strains credulity to extend the schtick around Rory’s youthful ignorance. (“I’m Episcopalian,” Bernard informs Rory, and she responds, “You shouldn’t call yourself an alien. ‘Undocumented worker’ is nicer.”) Her supersonic extroversion and his, well, whatever the opposite of supersonic extroversion is, could both be reined in without losing any of the sharp contrast between them.
Still, Mallon just manages to thread the needle of balancing broad comedy with the multi-pronged pathos stemming from Rory’s familial crumbling and Bernard’s ill wife and absent daughter. There’s some genuinely funny bits, too, like a description of how Rory’s theater program makes Grease Catholic school-appropriate: “Instead of referring to ‘Greased Lightning’ as a ‘pussy wagon,’ we’re now calling it a ‘kitten parade float,’” she explains.
Sean Hagerty’s calm underscoring and Matthew J. Fick’s impressively realistic, all-primary-colors set (I kept worrying Rory would fall off her roof) both add to the simple sweetness of the central relationship. The Net Will Appear doesn’t demand much from its audience, but lovingly performed as it is here, it’s as gentle as an air hug.
(The Net Will Appear plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through December 30, 2018. The running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:15, Saturdays at 2:15 and 7:15, and Sundays at 2:15. Tickets are $35 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 646-892-7999.)
The Net Will Appear is by Erin Mallon. Directed by Mark Cirnigliaro. Set Design by Matthew J. Fick. Lighting Design by Justin A. Partier and Jenn Burkhardt. Sound Design by Sean Hagerty. Original Music by Sean Hagerty. Costume Design by Peter Fogel. Stage Manager is Jack Cummins.
The cast is Richard Masur and Eve Johnson.