The Women's Project Theater's new Allison Moore comedy, Collapse, surely lives up to its name. Things are collapsing left and right — bridges, marriages, the economy (I spy a metaphor) — but as all of these things go whistling by, the audience is left waiting anxiously for a satisfying thud that never comes.
Now playing at New York City Center, Collapse opens on a clean-cut, middle-class Minneapolis home (designed by Lee Savage), inhabited by a pantsless young couple, Hannah (Hannah Cabell) and David (Elliot Villar). Much to the audience's dismay, the pair is not engaging in Lena Dunham-esque onstage debauchery, but rather are clumsily attempting to inject Hannah with fertility hormones.
The slapstick-scented opening scene, with sharp comedic direction by Jackson Gay, offers a smooth pathway into the characters' deeper flaws. David, who we learn was a victim in the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge Collapse in 2007, now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and seems to do nothing but loaf around the house drinking beer. Hannah, a straight-edged lawyer with control issues and a severe haircut, worries that David will never return to work (especially because she, too, is on the verge of unemployment) and begs him to attend a support group that she hopes will patch his open wounds. A turn of events leaves Hannah setting out to attend the meeting meant for her husband, where she ends up pouring out her heart to a self-proclaimed sex addict named Ted (Maurice McRae). David, meanwhile, is left at home with Hannah's deadbeat sister Susan (Nadia Bowers), who comes to live with them after being evicted from her apartment and has now unwittingly been employed as a drug mule. All signs point to hilarity ensuing. And it does…sort of.
Instead of a harmonious marriage between comedy and drama, the play walks a jagged line between the two making it difficult for the audience to orient itself in the world that Moore has created. Hannah and David each have a handful of dramatic monologues sprinkled throughout the piece that shine through like gems — a credit to both Moore's insightful writing and the masterful deliveries by both Cabell and Villar. However, the auxiliary characters of Susan and Ted are left dangling as merely two-dimensional foils who offer occasional comedic relief (the "Karen & Jack" to Hannah and David's "Will & Grace").
While Gay directs the show with a great ear for comedic timing, he occasionally drops the ball when it comes to building the tension of a dramatic scene. With a title like Collapse, we expect the characters to come out the other end of their dilemmas far more bruised and beaten than they do. The play's climax in particular (about which I will refrain from spilling the beans) is resolved far too quickly and cleanly. Like nervously dipping a toe into the ocean in mid-October only to find that the water is a tepid 90 degrees, it's confusing and too comfortable for its own good.
These quick resolutions are due in part to the enormous number of loose ends left to be tied by the end of the play: Susan's drug trafficking, Hannah's relationship with sex-addict Ted, David's post-traumatic stress and possible alcoholism, and of course, Hannah and David's marriage, which, on top of everything else, is laden with infertility and economic woes.
Though the plot may present the 80-minute production with more than it has time to tackle, Moore succeeds in subtly reminding us that life, too, presents us with more loose ends than the time or opportunity to tie them. I suppose all we can do is collapse into it and hope we don't end up in the Mississippi River.
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