Douglas Aibel, Artistic Director
Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell, Executive Director
By ALEXANDRA GERSTEN-VASSILAROS
Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15 St., NYC, May 14 – June 19, 2005
Directed by MARK BROKAW
Set Design NEIL PATEL
Costume Design KATHERINE ROTH
Lighting Design DAVID LANDER
Original Music & Sound Design OBADIAH EAVES
Production Stage Manager CHRISTINE LEMME
Press Representative SAM RUDY
Sophie – Melissa Leo
Phillip – Jay O. Sanders
Herb – John Rothman
Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros’ THE ARGUMENT is a curious work. Most eloquent when the characters consider the mundane, like groceries, yet strikingly stifled amidst great controversy, by the end it was entirely unclear what point was meant to be made. Perhaps the intended message was that difficult decisions have no easy answers, and that there is no absolute right or wrong. Perhaps.
THE ARGUMENT is ultimately about abortion, yet it manages to be unmoving and essentially not unsettling. Odd, I know, but true. Something in the characters’ philosophical divide lacks depth, but there is more to it than that. The more we get to know the central couple, the less likable each of them becomes individually. The couple in question, Sophie and Phillip, are typical opposites, as she is an artist and he a commodities trader. They move in together following a sexual tryst, and though they are both in their forties and divorced, it is clear from the outset that experience has taught them nothing about the dos and don’ts of dating and relationships. Aside from physical intimacy, there does not seem to be much to bond this couple. When a crisis arises, they are unequipped to handle it, either individually or as a team.
Phillip learns that Sophie is pregnant when he returns early from a business trip to find the results of a home test. He is happy, and she seems content, but the bulk of this scene is Sophie unveiling a brand new refrigerator to Phillip, and the couple salivating over the many types of food they plan to fill this new purchase with. No controversies here, or so it seems. Yet, as THE ARGUMENT progresses, it becomes clear that this unplanned pregnancy will be the ruin of this relationship. I suppose the "surprise" is meant to be that Sophie is the one who does not want to have the child, and perhaps this element would have been jolting were her reasons not so selfishly juvenile and poorly conceived. A child would interfere with her art, for example. In an attempt to salvage their relationship, the couple goes to a counselor, Herb. He has little to add except a lot of psychobabble and a bit of humor injected into the tension.
All three actors try to do something impressive with their roles, and they do the most with what they have. The script for THE ARGUMENT, too, intends to challenge the actors and the audience, but loses that battle by alienating us from the characters up on the stage. So, rather than in any way relating to Sophie, Phillip or their situation, we watch them as passersby viewing a surreal car wreck.
- Kessa De Santis -