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Brad Birch
Credit: Mark Douet

59E59 Theaters’ latest Brits Off Broadway offering brings Tremor, a new play by Brad Birch, recipient of the Harold Pinter Commission.

For this piece, 59E59’s smallest black box arena theater is presented practically empty; a framed crayon scribble and two child’s toys on the floor is all that greets the eye upon seating. Stir in two actors and two mugs of tea and you have all the makings of sparse British play with much cerebral potential.

Actors Lisa Diveney (Moonlight and John Gabriel Borkman at the Donmar Warehouse) and Paul Rattray (Harald Karstark on Game of Thrones) play Sophie and Tom, a former couple who see each other for the first time since they survived a terrible accident four years earlier, an event which gained much attention in the press.

Tremor touches upon everything from racism, self- and other-forgiveness, truth as a matter of perspective, survivorship guilt, regret, reconciliation and system failure all in 70 minutes with no intermission. Although covering so much ground in such a short period of time borders on inundation, the play is so expertly written and the story so carefully unveiled that this potential excess is not too negatively felt.  

The language of this play is very well chosen, using enough local colloquialisms to support characterization but not enough to cause confusion for a non-British audience. One exception to this observation might be in the use of the expression “taking the piss”, which is said enough times that it potentially interrupts the storytelling for the theatergoer who doesn’t know what it means.

Most noticeably (and this sentiment bears out after a script re-read), Tom’s political rant at the end, powerful as it is, seems out of place because the event they survived is less the result of a failure of the political system at large and more a sickness of society manifested over an isolated incident. Consideration was given to the possibility that the tirade was misplaced from the character’s standpoint; however, since he’s getting the last word the expectation is that he’s supposed to be right.

On the acting front, Diveney and Rattray tell the story with clear talent and skilled professionalism. There were a few gaps in their exchanges which were clearly meant to be overlapped or interrupted, demonstrating that for these few moments they weren’t listening to each other as intently as necessary. Such moments aside, the actors give truly sensitive and organic performances.

Director David Mercalati effectively stages the actors in the theater’s challenging circular setting, allowing the audience a well-balanced view of the actors’ faces. He expertly shaped the piece in line with the playwright’s intent.

Tremor plays through June 10th at plays at 59E59 (59th St. between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or visiting here.

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