Finding meaningful connections across a divide is the theme of many an artistic work. Building bridges and friendships can be difficult in a world of Instagram and noses in phones. Generations are apt to swipe their way into relationships. But do they last? Are they real, caring relationships that will have a lifelong impact? These are some of the issues brought to bear in Erin Mallon’s likable world premiere play The Net Will Appear at Hoboken’s Mile Square Theatre.
Bernard (Richard Masur) spends his days on his roof, in a chair, drinking Jim Beam and hoping to snare the annoying birds with mousetraps in his trees. His unseen wife is depressed or has Alzheimers. One day his next door neighbor Rory (Maltida Lawler) pops out and strikes up a conversation. Precocious is an understatement to describe her. She’s clearly smart, spends way too much time within the confines of bickering mom and bonus-dad.
This is a tender, moving, slice of lives. Mallon dialogue snaps with wit and craft. She in concert with director Mark Cirnigliaro create memorable characters with amazingly strong performances from Masur and Lawler. Masur is known for generations of work on sitcoms from Rhoda and One Day at a Time to Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and films like My Girl and Risky Business. His casting is surprising and deft. Bernard is defensive, private, gruff but clearly won over by Lawler’s Maltilda. It is great to see an actor typically cast in supporting boyfriend/husband/agent roles play a true character lead. And Masur rises to this challenge, melting the tough exterior with great facials and warm acting. Over the course of four scenes, each set in a different season, across a year, Bernard and Rory grow closer…while never breaching the distance of their roofs. Lawler is cute and delivers a pert, knowing performance. The two-hander works as each seeks sanctuary and companionship on their roofs.
Lawler has a way with a line. She hits the laughs but also delivers a tender performance. Rory can be vulnerable given her life circumstances and retreats to the roof with curiosity and candor. She’s energetic, cute, and winning so it is easy to see how each would be drawn to the other.
Together the actors create a nice balance – she’s honest, forthright and all too apt to speak. He’s guarded for realistic reasons – especially given her age. Yet over the course of time, their relationship begins to matter to one another. They are exactly what the other needs as they meditate on friends, aging, school, religion with subtle charm and easy, knowing humor. Bernard never talks down to Rory or patronizes her which is so rare in works featuring older adults. And credit for this restraint again belongs to Mallon’s rich text, Cirnigliaro’s deft direction and Masur’s craftiness as an actor. The production is credible, warm and engaging. It deserves a longer life, hopefully with the tandem of Masur and Lawler.
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The Net Will Appear plays through October 8. Mile Square Theatre is located at 1400 Clinton Street in Hoboken, New Jersey. Tickets are available online.
Photos by Joe Epstein