Herman Kline’s Midlife Crisis

Josh Koenigsberg’s new play about a surgeon who finds a mysterious package is tightly constructed and full of richly drawn characters.

Adam LeFevre in Herman Kline's Midlife Crisis
(© Robert J. Saferstein)
Adam LeFevre in Herman Kline’s Midlife Crisis
(© Robert J. Saferstein)

Josh Koenigsberg’s tightly constructed new play, Herman Kline’s Midlife Crisis, now at the Beckett Theatre, begins normally enough, with Herman (Adam LeFevre) and his wife, Liz (Kathryn Kates), bickering over breakfast.

It’s the kind of conversation you’d expect for a couple who’s been married for nearly 30 years, but everything changes when Herman reveals a package he found during his last shift as the chief trauma surgeon at Mount Sinai hospital.

It would ruin the fun to go into much more detail, except to say that this package and its contents have rippling effects in not just Herman’s life but the people around him, especially his friend Frank’s daughter, Lauren (Mary Quick), whose MCAT studying gets interrupted by an ex-boyfriend, Ernie (Bobby Moreno).

Thanks to director Sherri Eden Barber, the action largely plays out in an incredibly organic way that brings the tension from a simmer to a boil with ease, and the play unfolds without the pressure of having to get to the next event. Moreover, the characters shine through in all their complexities and are compassionate yet dangerous.

Part of what makes the play work so well is that everyone needs something desperately from each other: Liz needs to feel desired by her husband again; Herman needs to assert and hold onto his identity, which he feels is slowly slipping away; Lauren needs to pass the MCAT’s and make an emotional break from her Ernie; and Ernie has probably the most immediate need of them all, as his life depends on locating the contents of the package.

Late in the play, there’s a particularly compelling exchange between Herman and Ernie outside of the hospital. Expectations are constantly thwarted as an opportunity for unlikely bonding and their intense needs go up against each other in a thrilling exchange.

With such a vivid story, it’s a bit of a letdown that the design elements are just not up to snuff for an Off-Broadway production. A hokey looking black silhouette skyline looks silly hanging above Herman and Ernie during their intense scene, and the rest of the show suffers from a lack of visual imagination.

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