The Long Now
Beth Burns' play has the seed of a unique love story, but it still needs developing
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., May 29, 2009
The Long Now
Blue Theater, through June 13
Running time: 2 hr, 30 min
The Long Now is a play about time and obsession. This most recent Shrewd Productions show, written and directed by Beth Burns, features a young woman whose worst enemy is her own inability to face down a grisly memory from her past.
That right there is not a bad seed for a play. In execution, however, The Long Now does not live up to its potential.
Tish (Shannon Grounds) is a twitchy file clerk who enjoys a special relationship with Time, embodied by an upstage shadow puppet and voiced by T. Lynn Mikeska. Every day on her lunch breaks, she dashes off to her childhood school and relives the best memories of her life: flirting with a fellow kindergartner named Larry (Mason J. Stewart) and playing with her mom (Suzanne Balling). Tish avoids real life and new experiences, ditching on friendly co-workers whose well of patience is apparently bottomless so she can return again and again to these times of innocence and happiness.
Wouldn't you know it, one day Larry is back in town. Having moved back in with his parents after a bad divorce, he bumps into Tish and soon takes her on what is clearly the best first date ever, replete with an in-depth discussion on where their relationship is heading. (Funny, it never seemed to work on guys when I tried that.) Unspooked, Larry declares his intention to stick around.
At this point, Tish begins her tug-of-war with Time in earnest. It seems that vindictive shadow puppet Time likes having Tish around, and it's not okay for Tish just to ditch her mistress because she likes boys again.
Part of the play's problem is that the script didn't quite get itself figured out before getting to the stage. Fantastical elements are great things to include in a play, but once they're there, they have a lot of explaining to do. How did Tish get in touch with Time in the first place? How does she manage to live her life without getting noticed, not to mention fired, for regularly vanishing into these überintense daydreams? And why does Larry put up with this? What is it about their lifelong romance that has him coming back for her? The combination of the supernatural with the everyday mundane is not seamless in this play, just as Jesse Kingsley's detailed shadow puppets don't mesh with the Dunder Mifflin-like office environment where Tish does her filing every day.
The cast is a top-notch bunch, but the feeling here is one of actors searching for something actable in their lines and of wandering unmoored, as if the director weren't sure what to give them. Many of the lines just don't have that much meat to them, and often the actors were left putting more emotion into the dialogue than it could support.
On preview night, the audience – which included friends and family of the company – seemed to enjoy themselves, particularly during the first half of the 2½-hour play. Doubtless some will see the show and protest that the play was a sweet and unique love story. Certainly, the ideas for a sweet and original love story are present in The Long Now, but they don't quite escape the limits of the play's current draft.