Friday, October 17, 2008

From Sorrows to Kindness

Annette O'Toole and Christopher Denham in Kindness.

I can't argue with folks who say that Adam Rapp, an author I've written quite a bit about, essentially writes the same unapologetically autobiographical play time and again, but I would point out that you could accuse Tennessee Williams of doing just that.

If not much seems to happen in terms of onstage action, there's a vast amount of tension percolating just under the skin of his characters that more than compensates. That's certainly the case with his new play Kindness, which I had the opportunity to review.

His plays often linger in my psyche for days after I see them because there's so much packed into them. One way he illustrates the generational and intellectual gap between mother and son is by showing her still listening to '80s music on cassette tapes while he and his young female friend text-message with their cell phones.

As with his first non-young-adult novel, The Year of Endless Sorrows, which I read earlier this year, he seems to be becoming less of an angry-young-man writer. In Kindness he demonstrates more compassion and understanding of the parental characters, and in Sorrows I was quite touched by how effervescently he depicted falling in love:

"It was at this moment -- on a New York City bus traveling west while snow was passing diagonally across the aquarium-like windows, while two seemingly insignificant lives were converging like windswept birds approaching some rapturous shore at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, on the cusp of our great holiday season, in late December of 1991 -- it was at this precise and overly written about, verbally investigated moment that I knew with the certainty of a diamond cutting glass that I would fall face-first in love with Basha."

And in both Sorrows and Kindness, he pokes fun at plays that have starred his brother, Anthony: In the former a play at the Atlantic Theater Company called Trafficking in Broken Hearts becomes Traffic Lights and Broken Bridges, and in the latter Rent becomes a similarly-themed Broadway musical called Survivin'.

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