Mouth to Mouth
Kevin Elyot's unsettling play about a writer dealing with guilt, grief, and illness is given an affecting production by The New Group.
It's a year prior, when Frank is a guest at Laura's home, at a time when she and husband Dennis (Richard Topol) are welcoming the return of their 15-year-old son Phillip (Christopher Abbot) from a trip abroad, and also hosting Dennis' brother Roger (Darren Goldstein) and his wife Cornelia (Elizabeth Jasicki). Over the course of that fateful night, tempers flare, secrets are divulged, and something tragic occurs that has long-lasting repercussions. Frank is not the only one who has cause to feel guilt, but he does play a crucial role in the evening's unfortunate ending. Director Mark Brokaw maximizes the tension and suspense through tautly paced scenes that actively use pauses and silences to establish the proper tone.
Cale initially gains audience sympathy with his awkward yet likable demeanor. Some of the other characters don't really seem to listen to him or take him seriously, and his body language practically reeks of apology. And yet, when Frank does exert his force of will, playing on another character's feelings of sympathy, you practically want to go up on stage and slap him for being so manipulative. Emery expertly handles the shift from her more fluid and easygoing persona of a year ago to the halting speech patterns that her present-day self is able to manage. The fresh-faced Abbot has a wonderful energy, and comports himself with an outward show of confidence that masks the character's internal confusion. The remaining cast members also do good work, although Polk pushes a little too hard during his supposed crying jags.
Riccardo Hernandez's set design utilizes freestanding naturalistic pieces of furniture to suggest location while simultaneously seeming somewhat unmoored from reality. Mark McCullough's excellent lighting emphasizes mood, particularly in the opening scene. David van Tieghem's original music and sound design likewise help give the piece its emotional tenor.