Just as I began wondering whether Julia Stiles would do anything, even handstands, to breathe some life into Phoenix, she did exactly that while committing several more acts of yoga during the not-brief-enough show. All to no avail: it’s DOA.
Give her an A for Effortfulness, if not Effort: In addition to the headstand, Stiles stretches, pumps, preens, glowers, hollers and coos as Sue, a traveling nurse who prefers one-night stands to anything smacking of commitment. In Scott Organ’s off-Broadway two-hander, first produced in 2010 at the Humana New Plays Festival in Louisville, Sue’s fling with Bruce (James Wirt, earnest and determined) is complicated by ensuing pregnancy, which she is intent on terminating. Bruce is OK with the abortion but not with terminating the relationship that Sue insists does not exist. Silly Sue.
Stiles is a brainy, quirky force in theater (with a CV including performances in NYC, London and LA), movies (10 Things I Hate About You, the Bourne franchise, Silver Linings Playbook) and Web TV (Hulu’s Blue and Paloma) — all the more reason to wonder why she’s wasting her time on this excruciating palaver.
On the other hand, the script isn’t quite as awful as the show, performed under the none-too-forceful direction of Jennifer Delia. There’s no mention in it of yoga, for example, nor headstands, so one can’t blame Scott Organ for everything.
Caite Hevner Kemp’s set consists primarily of a platform bed the two actors turn around between scenes to represent New York and the title city. Adding, unfortunately, to the precious minutes I’ll never get back from the time I lost to Phoenix.
One another note: I recently returned to Violet, on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre. Sutton Foster has only gotten better as “the ugliest pilgrim,” which is the title of the Doris Betts story upon which this beautiful musical — about a young woman’s bus trip across the south in search of redemption — is based. Jeanine Tesori, who would become better known with her music for Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline…Or Change and the fantastic Fun Home, which is moving to Broadway next spring, made her debut with Violet. It closes this weekend. Don’t miss it.