If you are the type of person who would enjoy sitting through a vicious harangue for a couple of hours, then “A Delicate Ship” is the play for you. But don’t be misled by the title: there’s nothing delicate about this play. And there isn’t a ship, either, unless playwright Anna Ziegler is referring to a rather perverse “friend”-ship. Or maybe a “relation”-ship.
The story is set in Brooklyn. It’s Christmas Eve and Sarah (Paris Perrault) and Nate (Josh Zuckerman) are spending a quiet evening in her apartment overlooking a panorama of colorful, brightly lit buildings projected on a background of screens that stretch effectively across the stage from one side to the other. (Later the buildings disappear and are replaced by beautiful, lightly falling snow.)
Sarah and Nate are newly in love, which Nate acknowledges by playing his guitar and singing to her. They are interrupted suddenly, however, by a fierce pounding on the door and a boisterous young man, Sam (Philip Orazio), who bursts into the room and, ignoring Nate completely, begins a rambling, intimate conversation with Sarah.
Sam is brash and confrontational. Sarah is confused. Nate is conflicted. Who is this raucous intruder?
As Sarah explains, he is her “best friend.” They grew up together from toddlerhood, sharing adventures and secrets, knowing each other’s family, and eventually falling in love. But that emotion was more than Sam could handle, and he left her all alone — until tonight.
Very quickly he makes it clear that he wants to resume their relationship and he begins to woo her with happy memories of their time together. She objects and argues with him, but can’t help being mesmerized by his vociferous assertiveness. And meanwhile, Nate stands by awkwardly, trying to blend into the woodwork.
Eventually, Sam finds a new diversion: he turns on Nate and savagely attacks him, assessing him as a weak man who is living a tedious and insignificant life. Much of which Nate had already acknowledged to Sarah, telling her of his inadequacies, his failures in relationships, and his inability to determine what he wants to do with his life. At some point, when he is helping her decorate her Christmas tree, he mentions that he is Jewish. A brief random comment that is apropos of nothing.
Finally, seeing that his declarations of love and his recriminations of her fears have left Sarah unconvinced and haltingly ambivalent, Sam reverses his tactics and begins to plead with her to “save” him. He confesses that he and she shared a “primary joy” as children and now they could “grow up” together. And to Nate, who Sam had characterized as full of “emptiness and uncertainty,” Sam now boasts “I am her strength; she is me and I am her.”
But Sarah responds, “You’re too much for me. You’re too dark. I want to live. Please leave me.”
Whom Sarah chooses, and what becomes of all of them, is left to the last scene. Needless to say, all three actors are well cast and do a fine job under the tight direction of Andre Barron,
abetted by the comfortable scenic design by Sarah B. Brown and the lighting design of Jared A. Sayeg.
In short, it’s a well-presented play. Except for the plot.
The West Coast Premiere of “A Delicate Ship” can be seen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through March 11 at the Road Theater on Magnolia, located in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood.
For tickets, call (818) 761-8838 or www.roadtheatre.org.