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Venue: The West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street  

A Beautiful Day Without You, the brainchild of acclaimed playwright Marco Calvani, is billed as a dark comedy that purportedly explores critical questions related to race and gender relations, gentrification, isolation, and loneliness in contemporary America. The play, set in a housing project just outside of Chicago, tells the story of two neighbors, Bob Sacco (Dan Butler), a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, belligerent, somewhat racist, older white man, and Janet Blount (Richarda Abrams), a God-fearing, recently unemployed black woman. Both characters seem to endure analogous lives of loneliness and seclusion, mitigated only by the companionship provided by their dogs. Although they live in close proximity, it’s only after Sacco’s prized Doberman allegedly attacks and kills Blount’s toy dog that the two meet and speak for the first time. This confrontation doesn’t go well at all. Their heated conversation is filled with recriminations, denials, and threats, and Blount decides to report the incident to Rachel Huang (Anne Son), an animal control officer who appears on the scene to investigate her claim. But Huang has difficulty concentrating on the job at hand and breaks away to squabble on her cell phone with her wife, who we learn has recently abandoned her. When Sacco’s poor health leads to a stroke, Blount is hired to help with his recuperation, and the three of them continue to irritate and offend each other and, regrettably, the audience. It seems the superfluous dialogue of the last 45-minutes is taking a toll on the audience.

From the beginning, the play never really does get off the ground, probably the result of an astonishingly unexceptional script. The dialogue is simplistic and repetitive, and rarely, if ever, do the actors speak in more than three-word phrases. There’s not one engaging monologue anywhere in the hour and a half performance. Consequently, the characters establish neither depth nor authenticity and become difficult to relate to. They express themselves superficially and remain almost unknown to us. Dan Butler, in particular, over-dramatizes his role throughout the performance, which makes his character even less authentic. His expressions, reactions, and especially his volume seem capricious and inexplicable. In a contemporary play that purports to address important social issues, one might expect a far more nuanced and genuine performance. One never gets a sense of the considerable anguish this lonely, desperate man must feel. Regrettably, what’s most realistic about this character is its use of real cigarettes on stage, an affront to the city’s fire code and the audience (Who thought smoking several cigarettes onstage is a good idea?).

The other characters, Janet and Rachel, played reliably by Richarda Abrams and Anne Son, hardly fare better with respect to their development and complexity. Janet, a poor, ageing, unemployed, possibly lonely and melancholy black woman, is known only through her uninspired soliloquies with God. Even after we learn she’s never spent even 18-minutes alone with a man, the script takes us no further. Although we see her praying and invoking God’s will to explain her difficulties, her essence remains unfamiliar throughout the play. Similarly, Rachel, a recently abandoned, obsessive, possibly depressed, perhaps desperately lonely Asian animal control officer never develops into a more than one-dimension character.

Overall, the play is disappointing and falls well short of its potential. The serious issues it portends to examine remain elusive, its humor is tedious, its dialogue is undistinguished, and its acting is uninspiring. Notwithstanding its somewhat curious staging—the entire theater and seating area are covered in natural canvas—A Beautiful Day Without You may well be better off without you.

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