Steven Dietz's thoughtful, language-loving play may leave you not liking writers much
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., March 18, 2011
Zach Theatre Whisenhunt Stage,
1510 Toomey, 476-0541
Through April 10
Running time: 2 hr.
Fiction is a play about writers. Linda (Meredith McCall) and Michael (Robert Gomes) are two writers who are married. They face a sudden and terrible illness, and in the midst of their
fears and sadness, they agree to share their private journals with each other. Until now, they have appeared perfectly matched and powerfully in love. Now, at the end, they discover terrible secrets about each other.
It began with a writer's retreat they both visited at separate times years before. There they each met Abby (Sydney Andrews), a young woman who impacted their lives in different but equally crucial ways. From their relationships with Abby, the question arises of what in their lives together has been true and what was simply fabricated, in the way that writers love to imagine their way into the dark corners of human experience.
The language of the play by Austin-based Steven Dietz is terrifically smart, and not just in the sense that its characters are smart people. Listening to the characters speak, particularly Michael, it's almost as though the play ought to be read instead of heard. Typically, that's a criticism of a script; it's a live event, so it ought to be performed, not left on the page. But with two such literary characters as these, it's a strong choice to allow them to wrestle their way through their own words as they speak to the audience and to each other. These are people who tangle themselves up in their own expressions, stumbling through their own best efforts to explain their feelings instead of just feeling them.
At the same time, this play made me not like writers very much. I would submit this review as evidence that I am also a writer, which makes that a complicated statement. However, many people before me have observed that writers tend to be self-centered, and spending a whole evening in the company of two (perhaps three) such personalities is taxing. To believe in the tragedy of the play, we must believe that Michael and Linda love each other and are worth loving. Yet as performed here, neither of them come off very well in the initial scene, in which the audience watches their first meeting. It's also difficult to understand why Michael especially would consent to let his journals be read, given what must follow – especially with so little effort at avoiding the confrontation at this no-turning-back stage in their lives. Ultimately, too many other options are available for this turn of events to be believable.
Under the direction of Charles Otte, the actors perform the play gracefully, with no dull moments. The production's design is minimal but effective. It is a thoughtful, language-loving play with enough twists and turns to cause one to slow down and consider what makes a story.