It's nothing shy of a miracle for the ages that Joshua Everett Johnson and Rachael VanWormer are still standing on all twos, let alone trouping it out in New Village Arts' current Things We Want. See, they swap considerable spit in Act II as VanWormer's Stella comes on to Johnson's Teddy with a vengeance—and at one point on opening night, the gargantuan “crack” of their colliding skulls nearly set off the seismograph at UCSD. Man, that had to have left a mark; if those two had hit any harder, they'd have ended up about three feet behind each other. Owwww!
Audiovisual aids like that, however unintentional, permeate this play almost from start to finish—what do you expect, really, from a madcap black comedy featuring three unlucky, door-slamming brothers (two of whom are alcoholics) grappling with the dim prospects for their futures?
Answer: If you see this show, expect a run-on sentence that addresses the boys' concerns far too situationally. Playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman adds some effective back-story touches, but he never backs away long enough for the guys to forge their own paths; against his meddlesome behavior, the acting waxes shrill.
It's pretty telling that Sty (Adam Brick), Charlie (Tim Parker) and Teddy are still living in the apartment they shared as kids, the same unit out of whose 10th-story window their mom and dad jumped to their deaths. Hot new neighbor Stella moves into the building at exactly the wrong time, her feminine wiles further muddying the brothers' relationship (“I wish I had a dick just so you could suck it,” she declares in private to the fragile Teddy even as she's seeing Charlie). Every time these guys think they have it figured out, the big bad world crashes the party and unceremoniously makes off with the favors.
And that's about all there is to this. Not even the parents' suicides spearhead any meaningful discussion on the brothers' befuddlement over their lives and their power to change them. “I want to be happy,” Charlie simpers one night, as if he's the archetype for that grandest of wishes. So does everybody, for chrissake. Meanwhile, innocuous situations involving spontaneous errands, alcohol-fueled memories and interloping women hardly herald the path to his goal.
Director Lisa Berger has her cast on all cylinders, exploiting the difference between their rapid-fire reactions and their introspective responses. The problem is that there's far too little of the latter to work with here. Actorially, everybody's all dressed up. Literarily, they not only have no place go; they don't even seem to know it.
If you've been meaning to see Johnson in something, you'd better go to this play, lest you find yourself waiting until next summer. Things We Want is the last NVA piece featuring this fine actor before he moves to New York. He'll be back in June, featured in NVA's Summer and Smoke.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Sept. 19. Things We Want runs through Oct. 11 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St. in Carlsbad. $20-$40. 760-433-3245, www.newvillagearts.org.