Carpenter Square’s Great 'Kindness'
Adam Rapp’s play “Kindness,” directed by Terry Veal, offers a difficult and well-crafted evening of theatre at Carpenter Square Theatre. While not a brilliant script, the cast and director have brought some humor and grit to a family in crisis who find bizarre connections in New York City—certainly the right place for the bizarre.
Maryanne, a cancer patient, and her 17-year old son Dennis, are refugees from the grimness of their Midwestern lives. They have come to the Big Apple for a weekend of theatre, and they find more drama than they expected. Maryanne, played with layered maternal flightiness by Linda McDonald, wants a weekend with her son that lets her pretend for a while that she is not dying and leaving her teenager in the care of his gambling-addict father. Dennis, played with a solid subtlety by Duncan Barrett Brown, is also Maryanne’s primary caregiver, responsible for helping her with medication and mobility. Brown’s Dennis is torn between rage, grief, and hormones—all of it underplayed and believable.
When Dennis decides not to attend the play with his mother—described with oblique references as a “Rent”-like musical about “Survival”—Maryanne meets a kind and thoughtful NYC cabbie (unbelievable to many New Yorkers, but actually experienced by some visitors) named Herman, who accompanies her to the show. Played by Albert Bostick, Herman both gives and receives with grace; he is the embodiment of the title. In some ways, Bostick gives us a fairy godfather/good angel among a group of damaged people, yet his Herman is not a perfect person—Herman’s own grief and damage, managed with grace, is apparent in Bostick’s timing and delivery and in Herman's eventual choice.
The fourth voice is Frances, played by Blake Bridges-Vandewalker. Frances, apparently seeking refuge, wanders into the hotel room while Maryanne and Herman are at the play, sees an opportunity, and “befriends” Dennis. Her history, told and retold, is dark and murky and unfolds slowly and incompletely. Bridges-Vandewalker’s Frances is sexy, dark, and complicated—and eventually, sadly and charmingly untrustworthy.
Although the script is uneven, director Veal has managed to help his cast find moments of lightness and thought amidst the quartet of human brokenness struggling with varying degrees of awkwardness to express love, find hope, and experience grace. They fail, often with tremendous effect, and the ending leaves us very uncertain, and with many questions.
The set design, by Ben Hall and Veal, provides a pretty standard mid-town hotel in an older building (the window opens, which does not happen in modern buildings). The lighting (Jay C. Schardt) and sound (Veal) are so natural as to be almost imperceptible.
This is not a play for those looking for fluff. It offers a look at hard choices in hard lives, camouflaged to some extent by privileges of class and race, with no good answers for anyone. “Kindness” plays Thursdays at 7:30, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00 through January 31. Carpenter Square Theatre is located at 800 W. Main Street, Oklahoma City, and tickets can be purchased on the website www.carpentersquare.com, by emailing the box office at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 405-232-6500.