Monique Vukovic, Gibson Frazier, and Christina Kirk
in God's Ear
(© Carol Rosegg)
Monique Vukovic, Gibson Frazier, and Christina Kirk
in God's Ear
(© Carol Rosegg)
There are several beautiful, poignant moments in Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear, stylishly directed by Anne Kauffman at the Vineyard Theatre. Unfortunately, there are nearly as many forced, overly precious passages. The end result is an uneven production that nevertheless manages to be quietly affecting.

The play is a fragmented, poetic look at how young couple Mel (Christina Kirk) and Ted (Gibson Frazier) deal with the death of their son. She becomes increasingly incoherent, while he stays away from home as much as possible. Their daughter Lanie (played by adult actress Monique Vukovic) is also emotionally affected. Drawn into the trio's mourning are both real and imaginary characters including The Tooth Fairy (Judith Greentree), Lenora (Rebecca Wisocky), Guy (Raymond McAnally), a transvestite stewardess (Matthew Montelongo), and a G.I. Joe action figure (also portrayed by Montelongo).

Schwartz's dialogue -- with its frequent repetition of words and phrases, sometimes with slight variations -- keenly illustrates the dull monotony that now defines Mel and Ted's domestic routine, as well as their increasing disconnection from one another. But as they discuss the most trivial matters in heightened everyday language, their underlying fears and emotional needs become apparent. For example, Mel talks about how the doorknob to the closet door broke off in her hand, and hopes that Ted can fix it, "Or else I'll have to go out and buy all new everything. And I don't want to do that. I'm ill-equipped."

The playwright also deliberately abstracts certain speeches, which calls attention to her use of language, but sadly doesn't always reveal anything significant about her characters. More effective are the haunting and tender songs composed by Michael Friedman (who also contributed additional lyrics), which allow for fully realized expressions of melancholy and sorrow.

Kirk begins the play with a strong emotional connection to the material, but stays too much on one note, growing rather tiresome about halfway through the production. Frazier appropriately plays Ted as seemingly uncaring, but doesn't let the audience see enough of what's going on underneath his façade. Vukovic, Greentree, McAnally, and Montelongo all do well enough with their roles, but it's Wisocky who proves to be the most vibrant element in the entire production. She's particularly wonderful in a scene in which Lenora's flirtation with Ted triggers a mental breakdown that the actress imbues with such specificity and genuine feeling that it's simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.

Kris Stone's deceptively simple set is gorgeously lit by Tyler Micoleau, particularly when light emanates from underneath the stage. Leah Gelpe's excellent sound design -- with its echoey effects and atmospheric noises -- further enhances the dreamlike tone of the production, as do Olivera Gajic's costumes, which include some whimsical touches for characters like The Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe.

The play's focus on coping or failing to cope with the death of a loved one is familiar dramatic territory, most recently covered by such shows as Next to Normal and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole. Schwartz doesn't add anything profoundly new to the conversation, but the production is still quite moving.