THE DEATH OF THE NOVEL: Drama by Jonathan Marc Feldman and directed by Rick Lombardo. San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA.
408-367- 255 or www.sjrep.com. August 30 – September 22, 2012.
THE DEATH OF THE NOVEL is a confusing and tedious evening at SJrep.
Did you know that there are psychologists/psychiatrists who specialize in treating writers who have writer’s block? There are and there were times when this reviewer could use one. Today is not one of them but help is needed to untangle the web of emotional angst that unfolded on opening night of The Death of the Novel that begins San Jose Reps 2012-2013 season.
Jonathon Marc Freeman’s main character is a brilliant young novelist Sebastian Justice (Vincent Kartheiser) who has agoraphobia, a mental condition where the patient has abnormal fear of public places or open areas and becomes home bound. This is often triggered by traumatic events that can begin in childhood and reach a peak in the mid to late 20s. Sebastian is a classic case and claims he is “the most well-adjusted, depressed agoraphobic in Manhattan.” He is not. He is a mixed up mess parading bravado to cover up his fears.
Sebastian has had enough trauma in his life, including as a teenager watching men fall from the World Trade building, to send a dozen men to a shrink. We learn about the others piecemeal as the play unfolds in a tedious two hours and 20 minutes before all the reasons are laid out and they are not very convincing. The author is vice-chair of the Southern California Committee of Human Rights Watch and one might consider this play as an extension of his commitment. He even has inserted a character named Phillip (Patrick Kelly Jones) as sort of his alter ego, or something like that to espouse his themes.
After a young lady steps to the stage apron, becomes enthralled as she reads a passage from novel, she presses the book to her bosom and exits. Now what was all that about? Was it a passage from Sebastian’s highly acclaimed and financially successful first novel and who is she? Lights up on a spectacular loft set (John Iacovelli) where Sebastian in what amounts to a non-stop monolog is having a session with Perry (Amy Pietz) a publisher-ordered psychologist (a “writer’s block-whisperer”). Out of the bedroom comes an attractive lady whom we later learn is a hooker named Claire (Zarah Mahler), who is enraptured with his novel, has writing ambitions and hopes he will help get them published.
Enter Phillip, Sebastian’s best friend and a professed humanitarian (see paragraph two) who falls in and out of love as often as he changes his underwear but this time he has met the true one and only Sheba (Vaishnavi Sharma) a drop dead gorgeous Saudi Arabian who is also dazzled by the novel entitled “The Seventh Day.” Through the media of Facebook and Twitter Sebastian learns that Sheba is not what she professes to be and Perry suspects she is a stalker since Sheba is delusional and unable to separate truth from reality.
When Phillip goes off on a Humanitarian mission to the Middle East, Sebastian makes his move on Sheba and they have five weeks of passionate love and mutual confession. Phillip returns, Sheba deserts Sebastian and goes back to Phillip although he knows her true identity . . . a Kuwaiti whose father has been unjustly rounded up by Homeland Security.
From this point on Sebastian has a break with reality and there is a scene where he visualizes Sheba. Phillip returns to tell him that Sheba who has travelled to the Iraq with has been blown up by a suicide bomber. Sanity returns to Sebastian when he throws the barbecue grill over the edge of the patio and is forced to leave the flat by the police. Really and he is cured of his agoraphobia. End of play.
If you disregard the muddled psychology of post 9-11angst and the intricate mental states of the two main characters you can enjoy the acting and staging. Vincent Kartheiser has gained famed as a member of the TV series “Mad Men” and I cannot vouch for his previous work, he is a whirlwind performer and dominates the stage. Vaishnavi Sharma as Sheba is stunning and Amy Pietz believable as the level headed psychologist.
Kedar K Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com.