Gian-Murray Gianino and Meital Dohan in Stitching
(© Jaisen Crockett)
Gian-Murray Gianino and Meital Dohan in Stitching
(© Jaisen Crockett)
Remember how in Hamlet the highly agitated title character taunts Ophelia until he sends her off the flower-festooned deep end? Well, the esteemed English playwright Anthony Neilson has written a spin on this kind of volatile and ultimately crazy-making man-woman relationship called Stitching -- a title that refers to an act of female self-punishment that won't be detailed here out of deference to sensitive tastes.

But while the language is coarser and therefore potentially more "shocking" to today's audiences than Shakespeare's was to those plain-speaking Elizabethans, the intermissionless 70-minute result is hardly as poetic as Hamlet. Worse yet, it's two characters are not nearly three-dimensional enough to claim an audience's attention or concern for even those 70 creeping minutes.

At the beginning of Stitching, Abby (Meital Dohan) has just informed Stu (Gian-Murray Gianino) that she's pregnant and wondering what he wants to do about the unplanned-for bundle of joy. For much of the rest of the non-linear narrative, the at-each-other's throat couple try to resolve the daunting question -- in between flashbacks to the onset of their romance.

That's if you can call it a romance. Abby met Stu when, as "a mature student" hooking to cover expenses, she arrives at his adequate but uninteresting flat. (Pointedly, set-and-lighting designer Garin Marshall has positioned the apartment to face a white brick wall that underscores the metaphorical wall Stu and Abby are up against.) In the sequences depicting their contentious past, they play psychosexual games that any sentient viewer would rule out as a foundation for a love affair of any duration. Stu even gets around to mentioning that his first adolescent orgasm occurred while he was reading a book on war, which could be seen as too much of the wrong information.

In the scenes placed in the present, Stu and Abby try to determine whether to let the baby happen by doing things like jotting their feelings down and by attempting to answer questions they find in The Big Book of Personality Tests. While they hope these tactics will mollify each other, they immerse them in heated bickering instead. Eventually, Stu and Abby come to a conclusion about the potential baby -- one that plunges Abby into darker despair.

Director Tim Haskell needs actors prepared to give the explosive, exploitative text their energetic utmost; and he's got them in Dohan and Gianino. She's a pouty-mouthed blonde with a body that would stop traffic in an 80-mile-an-hour zone, and who's ready to throw herself into any no-holds-barred hold that fight director Maggie Macdonald contrives. The brooding, flashing-eyed Gianino has no trouble projecting Stu's internal discontent.

When Stu and Abby have their exchanges about what each is after, it's difficult not to think about Freud's old query, "What do women want?" But the even more pertinent question here is "What do audiences want?" The answer is they want plays that don't merely set out to shock, but succeed in genuinely shocking by creating honest and probing discussion of issues that haven't been dealt with previously and better. Stitching isn't one of those plays.