Insignificance might be the title of Terry Johnson’s beautifully nuanced play, but thanks to Director James Hillier’s careful direction and a flawless cast, the impact it leaves is quite substantial.
London’s defibrillator theater has meticulosly created a retro world of 1950s grit and glamour inside an actual hotel room on Fifth Avenue’s Langham Place Hotel. Guests step off the fifth floor and are instantly transported to a setting so genuine one might believe that the Sterling Cooper Advertising firm is just down the hall. Before entering the extremely intimate space, patrons are invited to grab a cocktail at the adjacent bar, featuring signs that hearken back to yesteryears. Even the bathroom is adorned in authenticity with vintage photos and pendants of the NY Yankees. Guests are then ushered into the hotel room where chairs and seats are strategically placed around the bed. Here is where most of the action occurs. (No. It’s not that kind of show. Get your minds out of the gutter!)
Johnson’s Olivier Award winning piece imagines a meeting between four icons: Albert Einstein (Max Baker), Marilyn Monroe (Susannah Hoffman), Senator Joseph McCarthy (Michael Pemberton) and Joe DiMaggio (Anthony Comis). None of them are actually addressed by their familiar names and are instead known, respectively, as professor, actress, senator, and ballplayer. With varying levels of insight and intelligence, each shares his/her thoughts on a mutitude of human complexities.
There are moments here that will stay with you long after you “check-out” of the room. After Monroe tells Einstein that she learned, but didn’t understand general theory, Einstein tells her that, “Knowledge is nothing without understanding,” and adds that, “the quest must not be to know everything but to understand all that you know. Truth is the journey, not the destination”.
I’ll give you a moment to put your brain back together. This is one of the many intelligent nuggets in Johnson’s brilliant script. His understanding of our common fears, desires, and disappointments is extraordinary as he is able to strip away the facade of fame that his characters possess to reveal a core of meaningful truths.
All four actors in this perfect piece are award worthy and the concentration that they maintain in such an intimate space is astonishing. The heady piece is perfect for a unique night on the town. (although if you’re claustrophobic, you may wish to either skip it-or just stop being claustrophobic for two hours.)
This is the first contribution that defribillator theater has made in New York, but it is a mighty impressive one. Let’s hope- like the Yankee Clipper- that they continue to hit more home runs. They’ve set the bar high at Langham Place.
Insignificance runs through March 20th at Langham Place Hotel (400 Fifth Avenue between 36th and 37th Street). For tickets and more information, visit http://insignificanceplay.com