Birthday candles, with Debra Messing, the party is not much

Enrico Colontoni and Debra Messing Birthday candles.
Photo: John Marcus

In the new Broadway play Birthday candles, Drama teacher Nova Heights makes fast hopscotch over time. It takes him 90 minutes to travel 90 years. We meet Ernestine (Debra Messing) on ​​her 17th birthday, then meet her again on her next birthday, go to her 18th celebration, then some years in her 30s, then her 50th, and finally her 107th birthday. Every once in a while, we see her baking her cake in the kitchen; Such domestic repetition is her dick watch. But here is the feeling of having lost hours, rather than counting a life.

Candles Makes you think about other strong plays: this This is certainly an obvious tribute to Thornton Wilder Long Christmas dinner A family went by fast through 90 Christmases, but it was also reminiscent of time-abridged plays like Don Lefrank. Great foodOr Will Arberis Plano, Or Will Eno Underlying Chris. And that familiarity goes deep. If you have never seen a play like this before in your life, I think you will still think It’s ringing. Those other plays make it easier for people to handle fate. The long horizon layers are a little depressing, but the timeline prevents them from feeling emotional about death. For all its references to philosophy, Birthday candles That existentialism did not achieve peace, nor did it have a sense of the human connection network of other plays. Rather it keeps its focus firmly on Ernest. This focus allows the Roundana Theater to mount the show as a star vehicle for messing – but it also restricts and dulls the experience.

That’s not to say it can’t move occasionally. Ernest suffers greatly as he ages. She has a twisted life (no mention of friends or education or interests or …), but she loses what she has. First, her mother, Alice (Susanna Flood), taught her to shoot; Then her daughter, Madeline (played by the flood), loses her mind; Then her husband, Matt (John Earl Gelks), betrayed and then became ill. His son, Billy (Christopher Livingston), marries Joan (Crystal Finn) so the grandchildren return the kitchen table, but they also stop coming to the party. There is only one fixed point in her life: her neighbor Kenneth (Enrico Colontoni), whom she has loved for many years from afar. There is something confusing about seeing boy Ernestine refuse to pursue her for decades for a prom, but Colandoni steps neatly and elegantly into the minefield of writing.

When people die, they go into the vacuum behind Christine Jones’ kitchen. Above them is the night sky full of things of Ernestine’s life – her wedding bouquet, her son’s piano keyboard, a ribbon that her husband brought her for a birthday – and the dying people seem to join that galaxy. Their implicit, Ernestine remains a cryptocurrency, full of wonderful words but lacking in real thought. As Messing prepares a real cake on stage, he meditates on the flour – “atoms left over from creation,” he says, able to say something scientifically meaningless and poetically confusing.

If we smile at a character it is one thing: Ernestine says to his mother, “In the life of my soul, how many times have I changed from surprise? “But there are star dust metaphors and airy accents everywhere. The characters all return to Ernestine’s mantra, “The genius of a party is to relax the masses. Leisure to travel from daily human tasks to morning. A song. An option. A breath. And then the house. “It sounds sugary to me, but by listening to a little glue in the lobby I gathered that some people found this thing meaningful. Like cakes, literally, it depends on how sweet your tooth is.

Before he became a director, Vivienne Benesh was a great actor, and you see him carefully touching on small moments with the cast. Flood’s Maddie, suicidal, bends over to kiss her feet as he helps her take off her spinning mother’s shoes. Curious daughter-in-law Jonah Finn is a breath of fresh air, talking a little to himself in the midst of family quarrels. (Haydn’s comic writing for her is his strength.) And when it’s time for Kenneth to die, Colantoni grabs the door frame to enter the vacuum behind the kitchen. He is the only one trying to go back.

But grace notes cannot sustain a product. Messing has too much on his shoulders, and it’s the wrong game for his gifts. She has some weird ideas about playing at a young age – her 17-year-old Ernestine has a kindergarten-stepping physique – and in the middle of the play she is lethargic and unable to catch sparks from her family. Even in moments of high emotion, Messing seems to be disconnected from those around her, she glances at the children but does not meet their eyes. Ernestine is very strong when she reaches her nineties, because Messing’s farsightedness and compressed air begin to gain momentum. What does she see? What can she ask? Some other lives might be beating to get her attention. Or her mind may finally be in the middle of a crowd of lifelong things. Maybe she could find her place in the expanding universe and travel farther and faster.

Birthday candles Is at the American Airlines Theater.

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