Holzman play makes many ‘Choices’ – not all good

The cast of the Huntington Theatre Company's production of  Winnie Holzman's "Choice" at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The cast of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Winnie Holzman’s “Choice” at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

BOSTON – Playwright Winnie Holzman has a lot of themes she’s exploring in “Choice,” now having its world premiere under the auspices of the Huntington Theatre Company in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts.

There’s abortion, and the lingering affects of the decision to undergo the procedure; spirits and the supernatural, and whether we can connect with those spirits in a very particular way; our celebrity culture and the outlandish things celebrities do to gain attention, and how we reward them with the attention.

Then there’s the ravages of aging, a young person’s self-loathing and search for identity, etc., etc.

Alas, in its current form “Choice” is all over the place, never staying in one place very long, and it takes Holzman, the co-writer of the book for the hit musical “Wicked,” a very long time to get where she wants to go – if indeed she ever arrives there, because I’m still not sure where exactly she wanted to go in a second act that seemed to go on forever.

Johanna Day, a standout in Huntington’s “God of Carnage” and “Good People,” is Zipporah “Zippy” Zunder (an unfortunate name in that it had me forever expecting for Bill Griffith’s comic creation Zippy the Pinhead to appear whenever I heard it). She is a well-known writer for a large national magazine whose husband Clark Plumly (Munson Hicks) is a much older, Pultizer Prize-winning author who is writing his memoirs.

They have a daughter Zoe (Madeline Wise) who is adrift after finishing college, sleeping most of the time, and has suffered from emotional and sexual identity issues (“I turn off both sexes equally” ).

Madeline Wise and Johanna Day in Choice at the Huntington Theatre Company, directed by Sheryl Kaller, written by Winnie Holzman, playing October 16 – November 15, 2015, South End/Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

Madeline Wise and Johanna Day in Choice at the Huntington Theatre Company, directed by Sheryl Kaller, written by Winnie Holzman, playing October 16 – November 15, 2015, South End/Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

Connie Ray is Zippy’s divorced friend Erica, a tart-tongued woman who is eager to talk about Zippy’s newest venture, a story far removed from her usual Hollywood celebrity profiles. A well-known Hollywood movie movie producer has become part of a cult that believes the souls of aborted fetuses ultimately find their way unto other bodies. The woman in question has come in contact with a young woman whom she believes is the reincarnation of her aborted fetus.

 

Zippy is eager to sink her journalistic teeth into the believers of Children Lost and Found, those who have embraced the idea that aborted souls can find new homes.

She is already attuned to some other-wordly things going on in her own life – there are the chewing sounds in the kitchen late at night and an other-worldly cat.

Raviv Ullman plays the easy-going, eager-to-please student Hunter, who stumbles into a job as Zippy’s research assistant against Erica’s warnings. He intrigues Zippy and his age would make him born about the same time Zippy got her abortion. Hmmmm.

When it come to choices, you can question some of the choices Holzman made here with her characters, including making the eighty-something Clark’s, hearing deficiencies a source of great humor. Go figure.

Ken Cheeseman plays two very different characters, both named Mark. The first is Erica’s tepid, eager-to-please boyfriend and he’s just fine there. But despite his gameness, to say the second character, Zippy’s former lover, doesn’t work on any level – especially making him a stroke victim unable to remember words who speaks with an Austrian accent – would be putting it kindly.

Wise will reappear as a Russian beautician who waxes funny about bikini waxes and as a nurse comforting Zippy before her abortion.

Holzman hasn’t budged from her firm stance supporting a woman’s right to choose but she at least raises the point – quite emphatically – to Erica that the decision may have lasting consequences that may include regret and doubt. She cited John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” as an inspiration to write a play that might not provide answers but would start a conversation.

The Huntington’s nonpareil production values are best exemplified by James Noone’s beautifully designed and appointed kitchen that includes a panel that slides away to reveal an upstairs bedroom.

It’s hard to blame the cast or Director Sheryl Kaller for the shortcomings of Holzman’s piece. The actors and the director are both all in here, but in its present form “Choice” is too disjointed to be a winning night at the theater.

The Huntington Theatre Company production of the world premiere of Winnie Holzman’s “Choice.” Directed by Sheryl Kaller. Scenic design by James Noone. Costume design by Marianne S. Verheyen. Lighting design by Rui Rita. Sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Through Nov. 15 at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through Nov. 15. www.huntingtontheatre.org.

 

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