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Jonathan Marc Sherman's new play about a man approaching first-time fatherhood is all-too-familiar. logo
Reg Rogers in Knickerbocker
(© T. Charles Erickson)
At the beginning of Jonathan Marc Sherman's Knickerbocker, now premiering at Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage, Jerry (played by Reg Rogers with an arch languor reminiscent of Judd Nelson at his most unctuous) is a 40-year-old expectant dad (and writer for the Guinness Book of World Records) who sits in a booth at an old-fashioned restaurant called Knickerbocker, discussing the prospect of fatherhood with his barely pregnant wife. From here on in, the names and faces may change, but you've seen it all before.

First, Jerry seeks counsel from a friend who has already made the leap into fatherhood. Next comes a heart-to-heart with an ex-girlfriend; followed by more discussion with his wife; a conversation with a guy friend, a stoner loath to lose his erstwhile partner in the puerile pranks of arrested development; and then a contentious lunch with Jerry's father, who favors the folksy appellation "the old man." Finally, all comes full circle as Jerry rises to embrace his wife, now fully rotund, and offer a benediction for his son.

It's not so much a play as a series of dialogues, and the biggest mystery is how and why Jerry's intimates put up with his arrogance and his tendency to savor his own witticisms. (He's not exactly Noel Coward!) Further, while locked in place behind the banquette table (flanked by a grid of New York nightlife images assembled by designer Alexander Dodge), nobody does much of anything, so it's hard to imagine what director Nicholas Martin could have done to enliven the proceedings. Indeed, Sherman's point seems to be that the Knickerbocker has become something of a womb for Jerry (there are hints of a tragedy involving his late mother), and that it's time he emerged. The unity of setting, however, comes at the cost of near-stasis.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast -- as good as they are -- strive in vain to get this stationary exercise off the ground. As Melvin, the friend-turned-father, Brooks Askamanskas has the thinnest (and shortest) of roles to try to plump up. He achieves a laugh simply by peeling off his jacket as he settles in to offer up the wisdom of his experience -- but then he's locked in place. Annie Parisse is amusing as the ex-flame, although their current relationship doesn't reflect all that well on Jerry's character, since he's engaging in what therapists would label an emotional affair. Meanwhile, Bob Dishy is often quite touching as Jerry's father, who puts up with all manner of filial affronts, ranging from condescension to accusations of callous mistreatment.

Of all Jerry's interlocutors, Peter Dinklage, as the crude stoner Chester, best manages to inject some physicality into the talky proceedings. He clambers all over the booth, intent on rescuing his friend from the impending doom of domesticity -- while, optimally, attracting the attention of some cute blond waitresses lurking nearby.

By the play's end, we can all agree it's long past time that Jerry abandoned the womb. As for the play that plumbs his psyche, it needs to be broken open, too.

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