Monday, February 11, 2013

Off Broadway: Off the King's Road

L-R: Christopher Borg and Jack Davidson in OFF THE KING'S ROAD.  Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Off the King’s Road, Neil Koenigsberg’s first full-length play, is currently premiering at the Theatre for the New City on First Avenue in Lower New York, but its theme is so timeworn and its cookie cutter characters tread such familiar ground in such predictable fashion that I couldn’t help thinking that I’d seen it all before.

Matt Browne (Jack Davidson), having recently lost his wife and retired from business, is understandably lonely and depressed.  In an attempt at recovery and revitalization, he travels to his favorite city, London, for a brief vacation at “Off the King’s Road,” a small hotel in Chelsea.  Once in London, he encounters all the usual suspects: Sheena McDougall (Mihaela Mihut), a Croatian whore with a heart of gold; Ellen Mellman (Amy Van Nostrand), a cat loving widow who is a long time resident of the hotel; and Freddie (Christopher Borg), the hotel’s cheerfully compassionate gay manager/concierge.  Meanwhile, Matt remains in long distance telephonic contact with his New York based therapist, Dr. Samuel Seth Yablonsky (Ethan Cohn).

This would be the point at which one might be expected to issue a “Spoiler Alert,” before divulging any more of the play’s plot, but in this case it’s not really necessary because there’s really not much of dramatic import that actually happens.  Matt develops a fondness for Sheena, whose boyfriend becomes jealous, but the jealous boyfriend angle just kind of peters out.  Matt and Ellen discover that they have something in common, a shared love of Ingmar Bergman movies and…nothing.  Matt and Freddie commiserate over their lost loves and sexual frustrations but nothing comes of it.   

The play is rife with red herrings that might have led somewhere but didn’t.  What was the significance of the mysteriously lost drawing board mentioned at the start of the play?  Nothing.  Why does Freddie seem reluctant to disclose that there are so few residents at the hotel?  Do we have the makings of an Agatha Christie mystery here?  Nope, there just are very few residents of the hotel at this time.  Why does Ellen’s cat disappear and reappear?  Because that’s just what cats do.  When Dr. Yablonsky informs Matt that he has separated from his wife, what does it mean?  Apparently nothing more than that Dr. Yablonsky has separated from his wife.  When Matt mixes up the package of shirts he planned to send to the laundry with another package he intended to discard, what would it lead to?  Well, in this case, at least we got a few laughs out of it, but nothing more.  And should we worry about Sheena’s jealous boyfriend threatening Matt.  Don’t lose sleep over it.

In sum, the playwright has teased his audience again and again but failed to deliver.  Off the King’s Road runs two hours without an intermission but that’s because no intermission is called for.  Plays with intermissions generally are structured to create a tension in the first act and a resolution in the second, but since no tension is created in Off the King’s Road, no resolution is required.  So why bother with an intermission?  Unlike most plays with beginnings, middles, and ends, with conflicts and resolutions, Off the King’s Road is little more than a picture of a week in the lives of five lonely individuals.  There are moments of humor and moments of pathos but it’s just not enough.

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