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Just Cause

Knickerbocker

Jonathan Marc Sherman's intermittently affecting new play concerns a 40-year-old man facing fatherhood for the first time.

By New York City
Alexander Chaplin and Mia Barron in Knickerbocker
(© Carol Rosegg)
Alexander Chaplin and Mia Barron in Knickerbocker
(© Carol Rosegg)
In Jonathan Marc Sherman's intermittently affecting Knickerbocker, now at the Public Theater under Pippin Parker's unobtrusive direction, the playwright is apparently following the old "write about what you know" dictum in penning this work about a 40-year-old man facing fatherhood for the first time.

Such an approach can sometimes mean authors are tapping into universal truths. As it happens this time, though, Sherman sticks too much to the thoroughly self-involved. The result is a comic drama that will be most appreciated by expectant dads and their spouses--as well as couples recollecting their recent child-bearing past.

In a series of short scenes spanning a period of six months -- all set in the Greenwich Village restaurant that gives the play its title -- Jerry (Alexander Chaplin) compulsively tries to come to terms with his wife Pauline (the appealing Mia Barron) coming to term. He unburdens himself of how unready he's feeling to not just the patient Pauline, but best friends Melvin (Ben Shenkman, authoritative) and Chester (amusingly itchy Zak Orth), ex-girlfriend Tara (lissome Christina Kirk), and dad Raymond (Bob Dishy, always reliable).

Among the various angles broached are the happily realistic Melvin's attempts to reassure his pal that uncertainty is natural considering the impossibility to describe what's in store, as well as Chester's contention that Jerry's first mistake was marrying Pauline.

Several of the discussions, however, become quickly tiresome because too many of the subjects discussed have only personal resonance for the characters. Jerry's habit of querulously challenging much of what his tete-a-tete partners have to say is wearying, and Chaplin doesn't help matters by the endless times he emphasizes his goading points by poking an index finger on that tolerant Knickerbocker table. Moreover, some of Jerry's one-on-ones lead a spectator to wonder over time why Pauline puts up with Jerry's unrelenting foolishness.

There is one scene that does work particularly well: Jerry's meeting with dad Raymond, during which the pair have a believable give-and-take. Raymond not only talks about his parental pride; he even alludes to his sexual history -- information from which Jerry unsurprisingly retreats.

It's possible that Sherman wants to show that Jerry's mounting worries about his ability to be a good dad are unintentionally souring his closet relationships; but he doesn't follow through on that observation with any convincing dramatic development.


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