Playwright Anna Ziegler peels away the layers of her characters to their pulsing human core in “A Delicate Ship,” now in its West Coast premiere.
Ziegler’s “Photograph 51,” a West End star vehicle for Nicole Kidman a few years back, concerned a female scientist whose contribution to the discovery of DNA was unrightfully eclipsed. That play was sharply intelligent but emotionally muddled, particularly in its denouement. By contrast, the production of “Ship” at the Road on Magnolia in North Hollywood demonstrates beyond any doubt that Ziegler can write with masterly emotional veracity.
Ziegler couches her drama in the simplest of situations. It’s a snowy Christmas Eve, and new lovers Sarah (Paris Perrault) and Sam (Philip Orazio) are enjoying a quiet evening in Sarah’s Brooklyn apartment. Sarah B. Brown’s set, subtly lighted by Jared A. Sayeg, is a cozy locale. Cricket S. Myers’ virtuosic sound design — so unobtrusive we are hardly aware of it — lulls us into a deceptively pleasant mood.
Not for long. Onto the scene bursts Nate (Josh Zuckerman), Sarah’s childhood friend, a dervish of energy whose outrageousness knows no bounds. Supposedly Sarah’s platonic friend, Nate hides genuine desperation under his outward cheekiness. As his competition for Sarah’s affections becomes increasingly obvious, gale force passions buffet the trio, with devastating consequences.
Vaulting back and forth in time, Ziegler’s memory play is both elegy and cautionary tale, imbued with poignant loss and keen regret. Under Andre Barron’s sensitive and appropriately delicate direction, Perrault and Orazio are superb. However, it is Zuckerman’s tour-de-force turn — twitchy, manic, comical and anguished — that dazzles.
Ziegler overshoots the sweet spot where her play should have ended. The final scene devolves into anticlimax — a shame, since the information delivered in it could easily have been included in previous snippets, especially considering the piece’s ebb-and-flow chronology.
Perhaps Ziegler should trust her audience a bit more. We understand what happened without having it explained. And if a wisp of ambiguity still lingers, that’s fine too.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
‘A Delicate Ship’
When: The Road Theatre on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 11
Information: (818) 761-8838. www.RoadTheatre.org
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
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