Have you ever felt like you were the main character in a novel, narrating in first person for some unseen reader? The three Londoners in Kieron Barry's Tomorrow in the Battle surely feel that way, but which of them is right? You won't know until the very end of this off-Broadway debut by Stripped Scripts, which is being billed as an "Ars Nova fling" (which means they're renting the venue). And really, you may not even care, depending on your feelings about the insulated, status-obsessed elites at the heart of this little play, which is as gloomy as a London afternoon.
An artfully rendered midlife crisis, Tomorrow in the Battle follows pediatric heart surgeon Simon (Patrick Hamilton) and his wife, Anna (Ruth Sullivan), who works on the Trident program for the ministry of Defense. In their own ways, each half of this power couple wields control over life and death, through the scalpel or nuclear warheads. Add to the mix financier Jennifer (Allison Threadgold) and we have a perfect trifecta of megalomania. Simon embarks on an affair with the younger Jennifer, while Anna masturbates in the attic to thoughts of another heart surgeon named Matthew.
Our three characters spend the entire play in soliloquy, telling us what is happening rather than allowing the story to spring from the dialogue. They never actually speak directly to one another. This baffling abdication of the dramatic form has become increasingly popular in modern European theater. Perhaps it is a comment on our inability to truly connect in a hyper-connected age. Mostly, it just reinforces the cliché of the playwright as a frustrated novelist.
At least here that style benefits from Barry's sharply observant voice. Nuclear submarines are "ink-black whales" submerging into the "alien totality" of the Atlantic Ocean. Jennifer's lingerie collection is "a complete repertoire of profanity in cotton and lace." As Anna stares helplessly into her oven, the chicken stares back with "nothing but sarcasm." Barry combines the cold materialism of American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis with the camp sensibilities of Zoë Heller in Notes on a Scandal, resulting in a night of theater that will keep you chuckling at its overwrought packaging of the mundane.
It helps that the three actors really know how to make their monologues exciting and active. Sullivan's expressive face helps bring Anna's vibrant imagination to life. Threadgold approaches Jennifer with the plastered smile of a Stepford wife, which provides a satisfying contrast to her consistently dark thoughts. Hamilton's Simon is so blinkered in his brooding perfection that we're not sure he even realizes how sinister he sounds. "I'm sick of my success," he complains after performing a heart transplant on nearly a pint of Scotch. One gets the sense that given different circumstances Simon might have made an infamous serial killer.
Director Tana Sirois stages the play with an appropriately frosty elegance. Chika Shimizu's minimalist set features just a central block that unfolds into multiple chic European interiors. Beth Morgan costumes the three in business casual, as if they're always prepared for a job interview or press conference. David Shocket's dark and dreamy lighting seems to isolate our three characters further in their own pools of illumination.
Self-centered and unlikable, our three characters nevertheless prove to be competent vessels for Barry's striking prose. It is entirely likely that some of the lines will haunt you long after the story has faded from memory.
- Patrick Hamilton
- Allison Threadgold
- Beth Morgan
- Chika Shimizu
- David Shocket
- Kieron Barry
- George McClintock
- Tana Sirois
- Ruth Sullivan
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