The Playwrights Realm
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
416 West 42nd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Daily through February 21, $10-$35
Lovers Sarah (Miriam Silverman) and Sam (Matt Dellapina), a couple for just less than a year, are having a pleasant little Christmas Eve in Brooklyn until the incendiary Nate (Nick Westrate) unexpectedly knocks on Sarah’s door, bringing a whirlwind of snark and cynicism with him. Nate is Sarah’s best friend since childhood, but she has conveniently avoided telling Sam about him and their regular conversations. It’s not so much that she’s hiding Nate from Sam; she just doesn’t know what to do about him. Nate is a sarcastic, malicious thirtysomething who says exactly what’s on his mind, no matter how hurtful it can be — or maybe precisely because of how nasty it is. He sees Sam as a threat to his special, unusual relationship with Sarah, and he lets him know that right from the start. “Where are you coming from?” Sam asks. Nate sneeringly replies, “In what sense? Physically? Intellectually? Emotionally?” Sarah adds, as an excuse, “Sorry — he’s crazy,” to which Nate chimes in, “Only for you.” Sarah is a social worker, but she cannot rein in Nate’s lack of social skills; he wants to exist in a world where there is only Sarah and Nate, as if no one else matters, especially Sam, a genuine, nice guy who lets slip that he wants to marry Sarah, which really sets Nate off, and he begins insulting Sam every chance he gets, mining the past to try to prove that Sam will never know and understand Sarah as only he can. Nate jumps all over Sam, a paralegal, amateur philosopher, and singer-songwriter, but Sam is soon giving as good as he gets as the three become immersed in a compelling and involving tug of war over life and death, loneliness and romance, children and parents.
An Alumni Production from the Playwrights Realm, which presented Ziegler’s Dov and Ali in 2009, A Delicate Ship is a tense and fascinating exploration of childhood innocence and the supposed experience that comes with maturity, of the things that change, and the things that don’t. “I don’t actually see why anyone would want to be anything but a child,” Nate says. “It’s not a theory. It’s a statement about life. That the primary joys we experience are as children.” Sarah answers, “I don’t agree.” But Nate is resolute, telling her, “Because agreeing would be admitting your life is getting gradually but steadily worse and that’s an existential predicament you do not wish to acknowledge.” Nate might be a noxious, mean-spirited asshole, but he also makes some insightful points, along with plenty of inciteful ones. Ziegler, whose Photograph 51 is currently playing in London with Nicole Kidman, writes with a sharp love of language and a poetic rhythm that is utterly captivating. Throughout the play, characters turn to the audience and share their thoughts and memories, scenes from the past and hints at the future, while the other characters watch and sometimes even comment. Director Margot Bordelon captains this delicate ship with a sure hand, balancing Sam’s low-key nature with Nate’s unpredictable bravado, navigating steadily through choppy emotional waters. Reid Thompson’s living-room set, which features a Christmas tree, a door standing by itself, and a stone path where Nate sometimes treads, feels real in more ways than one, the smell of evergreen wafting through the air. The cast is superb, their movements across the stage beautifully choreographed, particularly Drama Desk Award winner Westrate’s Nate, who just can’t keep still, like an overactive child. Ziegler (The Minotaur, BFF) was inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” as well as W. H. Auden’s poem about that work, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” both of which can be seen right outside the theater. Auden writes, “In Bruegel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone / As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green / Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen / Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.” Icarus tried to fly to the sun, but his wax wings melted and he fell into the sea. Ziegler’s A Delicate Ship has lofty goals itself, but it soars, never melting, a poetic, unrelenting journey into the heart and soul of what makes us who we are, who we want to be, and who we never will be.