Nick Westrate as Nate, Miriam Silverman as Sarah, and Matt Dellapina as Sam in the Plawrights Realm production of Anna Ziegler's A Delicate Ship, directed by Margo Bordelon at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.
Nick Westrate as Nate, Miriam Silverman as Sarah, and Matt Dellapina as Sam in the Playwrights Realm production of Anna Ziegler's A Delicate Ship, directed by Margo Bordelon, at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.
(© Jenny Anderson)

Memories never vanish entirely. It might be harder over time to recall what one wore to a certain event, or the way a former lover kissed, but it's still there, somewhere, in the vast recesses of our mind. All it takes is a trigger to make it reappear, clear as day. This is Anna Ziegler's jumping-off point in A Delicate Ship, a gorgeously sweet and sad three-character drama being given an excellent production by the Playwrights Realm at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

A Delicate Ship is set on two different planes. The first is fairly ordinary: a modestly decorated New York City apartment with hardwood floors and a decent view. The time is Christmas Eve. Sarah (Miriam Silverman) and Sam (Matt Dellapina) are a relatively new couple spending their first holiday together. Sam is convinced it will be the first of many. That is, until Nate (Nick Westrate) barges in.

Nate is Sarah's oldest (and best, though she'll never tell him) friend. He's a loose canon compared with Sarah, a social worker, and Sam, a paralegal who wants to be a musician. Nate's Christmas gifts are a bottle of champagne, a joint, and a bag of cheese doodles. Nate's arrival — and his willingness to start revealing secrets — upends an otherwise pleasant evening. "Did you guys go out, or something?" asks Sam. "Oh no, it's much more serious than that," Nate replies.

What actually happened was a long time ago. In fact, the Christmas Eve during which A Delicate Ship takes place was a long time ago, too. The second plane on which the 80-minute work lies is memory. Through an exceedingly simple theatrical device — the breaking of the fourth wall — Ziegler explores how upsetting moments never leave us entirely; they're just placed into a different compartment until a trigger makes them reappear as if they took place an hour ago.

Yet unlike The Glass Menagerie, the direct address here isn't limited to just one character. Ziegler allows her entire trio to come and go from the story as they please — narrating, providing backstory, and clarifying the events. They do so in a language that is more heightened and poetic than the starkly naturalistic dialogue of the living-room scenes.

In most theatrical situations, the melding of the real and the artificial never quite gel. Given how disparate these two forms inherently are, it's almost surprising that A Delicate Ship works as well as it does. Ziegler has written a lovely piece that not only has the musicality of a fugue, but also contains an emotional center that will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a relationship end.

That Ziegler's script has been given such an engaging production is almost an added bonus. Director Margot Bordelon guides her cast into three deeply felt, thoroughly human performances that effectively function on their own but, like the characters themselves, would be completely lost if left alone. The levels of deep-seated vulnerability displayed by Silverman, Dellapina, and, particularly, Westrate, are astonishing in both their beauty and sadness.

Bordelon's creative team works on a similarly ethereal level. Reid Thompson's set is wall-less, allowing the actors to jump in and out of scenes as needed. Nicole Pearce's lighting rises and falls depending on the nature of the text. Sydney Maresca's costumes are exactly what you'd be wearing on a bitter cold evening in late December.

Memory is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to deciding how you want to remember a particular person. Ziegler doesn't sugarcoat this fact, and perhaps that's why A Delicate Ship is so notable. As in real life when we conjure a moment that did us extreme damage, it hurts us to an almost impossible degree. And it does for these characters, too.