When Lameece Issaq takes the stage in her play A Good Day to Me Not to You, we sense that she has an odd story to tell. Her narrator, a dental lab technician assistant, arrives at a convent on the Upper West Side where she has come to check out a cheap room, and one of the residents immediately barks the words of the title at her.
The strange greeting is off-putting to Issaq’s narrator, and to us, but that seems to be the effect that Issaq is going for in her mostly fictional, cumbersomely titled solo show, now running in a Waterwell production at the Connelly Theater. Much of what happens to her skirts around the edges of believability and never quite gels into a cohesive story (Issaq did spend time at the St. Agnes Residence on the Upper West Side, but her characters and the play’s events are her own creations). On top of that, Issaq’s futile attempts to make the weirdness of her monologue funny often feels like, well, pulling teeth.
That proves to be one of the show’s biggest problems as we meet a nameless, Catholic (“raised not practicing”) woman of Palestinian and Lebanese decent who has failed to make a career out of something that she genuinely enjoys doing, making molds of people’s teeth. Her sister died in childbirth, leaving her to share parenting duties of her nephew with her brother-in-law. But now that she’s somewhere in her 40s, she wonders if she should become a mother herself — using one of her sister’s frozen eggs and the sperm of a male sex worker. As she travels this uncertain road toward motherhood, she becomes friends with a lesbian nun who seems to have a crush on her, and has a relationship with a dentist who files her teeth down so that she can give him a more pleasant blowjob.
The quirkiness of the story has all the elements of a darkly comic monologue that addresses serious questions about female autonomy, the difficulty women have balancing career and family, and the life-changing realization that one is past the age of childbearing. The problem is that Issaq’s delivery falls comedically short at almost every turn, and the jokes she plants throughout are simply not that funny. “The place is designed with a grandmother’s touch,” the narrator says looking around at her new digs at the convent, “if that grandmother had late-stage dementia.” At the performance I attended, you could hear a pin drop.
Director Lee Sunday Evans employs other creative elements to distract us from the script’s shortcomings. Peiyi Wong’s large set is populated by a variety of objects (props by Mele Sabú Borges), such as an antique mirror and lamp, and statues (presumably of St. Agnes and the Virgin Mary) staring down at us from above, all of which help keep our eyes occupied when attention drifts. Mextly Couzin’s lighting and Avi Amon’s music are also used effectively in a haunting scene at the end when the stage becomes a chapel where the narrator questions her life choices.
But it’s not enough to distract us for long from sensing that there is a good story in there somewhere that could get us laughing even as it makes us think about the important issues it raises. Unfortunately, despite its kooky characters and provocative themes, Issaq’s story lacks bite.