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The Insomnia Play and The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie

Though these two new plays are set in apartments, they're anything but standard kitchen-sink dramas.

By New York City
Julie Lake and Ben Vershbow in The Insomnia Play
(Photo © Tara Howard)
Julie Lake and Ben Vershbow in The Insomnia Play
(Photo © Tara Howard)
There is one major similarity between the two works that Babel Theatre Project, a daring young company now in its second year, is presenting in repertory at the Medicine Show Theater: Jessica Brickman's The Insomnia Play and Emily Young's The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie. But don't be fooled by the fact that both plays are set in small apartments; they are anything but standard kitchen-sink dramas.

As one might expect, the action of The Insomnia Play begins late in the evening. We're in the house of George (Ben Vershbow), who is fast asleep and doesn't realize that the moans he's emitting in the midst of an apparent sex dream are keeping his girlfriend Georgina (Julie Lake) awake. This incident gives Georgina further doubts about their relationship -- and, as she lies there unable to sleep, she has visions that test her resolve even further. A sexually frustrated Sandman (Drew Battles) makes passes at her; the spirit of her dead, saucy mother (Diana Buirski) reminds her of the disappointments that married people face; and terrible things keep happening to a cute little lamb (Buirski again) that accompanies the sandman.

Directed by Geordie Broadwater, the play grabs our attention, but it takes too long for us to find out why we should care about the main characters. For example, George holds an office job, but what Georgina does is a mystery. Who makes more money, and how does that imbalance affect them? The answers to these questions are hinted at, but they deserve to be explored more fully. Still, the play eventually brings us to a point of emotional investment, and it entertains us with panache and imagination on the way there. As is the case with many absurdist works, the lines between dreaming and the real world are blurred within it.

Lake plays Georgina with a wry wit, but her performance could use some more specificity. She doesn't completely capture the effects of sleep deprivation, including exhaustion, giddiness, and occasional lapses of sanity, that are written into the role. Vershbow presents a spot-on portrayal of her confused and aggravated boyfriend as well as expert takes on the many fantasy versions of him -- such as a sex-crazed biker and a Spanish gentleman -- that appear to her. Battles gets a lot of laughs as the lecherous Sandman. Buirski takes us on a funny and even moving ride as the lamb; the fact that her other role of Georgina's deceased mother is decidedly less sentimental says something about the delicious irony of both her performance and Brickman's writing.

Miriam Silverman in The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie
(Photo © Tara Howard)
Miriam Silverman in The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie
(Photo © Tara Howard)
The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie is set in Willie's sparsely decorated room with drab wallpaper, a bed that lies low to the ground, a record player, a portable water heater for hot drinks, and a bookshelf. The impulsive British expatriate Kat Kat (Miriam Silverman) has come for another unexpected visit. She used to be partners in crime with Willie, and she always had a habit of breaking his heart when she was looking for a place to stay. Now, she has a new heist planned, and so is horrified to hear that Willie has dumped the outlaw life for a cushy computer job. What's more, he wants to marry her!

All of this could have made for a typical outlaw romance, but Young freshens it with her gifts for colorful language and offbeat characterizations. In one tender scene, Kat Kat tells Willie that he has "a heart as large as a bale of hay." In another, she reveals that she wets the bed, then spouts a list of her faults in a hopeless effort to make Willie stop loving her. Worse, she can only allow herself to get close to him by goading him into acting out a rape fantasy that would make Ayn Rand blush. But even this doesn't satisfy her, and her eyes keep roaming toward men who expect less of her.

Bobb and Silverman are perfectly cast in the lead roles. The superb Erik Liberman brings life to the members of a social group that Kat Kat regularly attends, including a horny Frenchman, a Puerto Rican singer with a doleful voice, and a wise, old Sicilian widow. Joe Petrilla fills out the cast nicely with his hard-edged portrayal of a Cockney boy. Special kudos to Heath Cullins for his sharp direction.


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