If you guessed that the titular “crevice” in Lauren Yee’s new play is a metaphor for a middle-aged woman’s vagina, you’re definitely on the right track. No, actually, you’ve found the figure in the carpet. The seventy-minute comedy, now running at Impact Theatre under the direction of Desdemona Chiang, is a play about members of the so-called “Boomerang Generation” learning to finally cut their maternal umbilical cord. Except that it never really happens. If there is a moral to this play, it’s that a young person’s fate always lies in the hands of her mother.
That’s either heartening or profoundly dispiriting, depending on how much you value free will. In Crevice, it’s virtually nonexistent. The 27-year-old protagonist Liz (Marissa Keltie) is marooned on her mother’s couch in a pair of Princeton sweats, watching episodes of Teen Mom while her brother Rob (Timothy Redmond) takes bong hits in an adjacent bedroom. At one point, both Liz and Rob had lofty ambitions. She dated a corporate lawyer and helped develop sustainable housing in Latin America; he wanted to be an actor. But Liz got dumped, and Rob got indolent, and pretty soon they were both feeding off the hand of their benevolent but incredibly domineering mother, Kathleen (Laura Jane Bailey). She seems happy to maintain that delicate balance of domination and self-sacrifice, despite protestations from Len (Jordan Winer), a lover, real estate agent, compulsive liar, and unlikely Cassandra. He warns Kathleen that if she doesn’t cut off her kids, something terrible will happen.
So the play starts off with a somewhat believable — albeit weird — scenario. In an environment of abundant education and ever-diminishing job prospects, it’s certainly plausible that a Princeton grad could wind up back in her mother’s roost. It’s even conceivable that she’d envy the characters on Teen Mom for having an edge in the procreation race. The real estate agent is kind of a wild card, but he propels the story forward by creating tension between Kathleen and her kids. In short, it’s got all the ingredients of a lighthearted situation comedy.
And it even subscribes to that form, with short dialogues that almost always end on a punch line, breezy music played between scenes, and a set that recalls nearly every TV home environment of the Seventies and Eighties (brown rug, family photographs, Scrabble pieces scattered on the coffee table — all artfully designed by Alex Friedman). The characters seem a little underwritten, but their relationship is apropos of the move-back-home generation. Anyone who’s taken the walk of shame back to his mother’s doorstep will find it eerily familiar.
Then it gets strange. Although Impact is known for producing offbeat, contemporary plays that sometimes devolve into magical realism, this one actually goes off the deep end. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that Kathleen generates an earthquake, which creates a giant fissure in the living room, into which her two children fall. They wind up in a strange purgatory where both have all the trappings of adulthood: money, families, gainful employment, designer clothes, fully stocked kitchens, and vast armadas of luxury cars. It’s not exactly clear whether Kathleen wished that upon them or whether they went down the rabbit hole themselves — either way, it backfires. The status quo turns out to be horribly meretricious.
Crevice spawned from a collaboration between Impact and PlayGround, two local companies that seek to incubate new playwrights and create theater that’s germane to younger audiences. The play certainly fulfills both goals. Yee, who is finishing her MFA at UC San Diego, is a promising writer with a campy sensibility and an eye for current trends. Many of her plays deal with the plight of college-educated adults who are buffeted by their parents’ expectations and their own desire to achieve, but constrained by outside limitations (the Great Recession, in this case). Free will being overrated is a perennial theme in her work, and it’s grist for wry comedy.
Sadly, though, Crevice is an example of poetic license gone awry. The actors are wonderful — Laura Jane Bailey conveys volumes just by rolling her eyes or putting on lipstick; Reggie D. White is seductively evil as Liz’s romantic interest, Chris — but for the most part, they’re dealt a bad hand. As in much comically- or socially-oriented theater, they seemed like stock characters rather than fully realized humans. That wouldn’t be such a problem if Crevice had a more poignant message than “Beware your mother’s womb. It’ll suck you in, and never let you out.”
Perhaps there were other lessons being telegraphed between the lines, but I missed them entirely.