Don’t You F**king Say a Word is a fun, if a little unfocused, look at 21st century friendships. What is a friend? Are friends simply people to pass time with? Does meeting for a tennis match or yoga class constitute a modern friendship? Or does the notion of friendship require a mutual love and understanding of one another?
During the roughly 90 minutes of tennis matches, Kate and Leslie narrate, observe, and sometimes participate in their partners Russ and Brian’s tennis-fueled conflict. The play opens with Kate and Leslie telling the audience that they are about to dig into some kind of traumatic event and, in doing so, learn about men. It had the potential to be a trite women-bitch-about-men-and-make-petty-observations tale, but the time with Kate & Russ and Leslie & Brian manages to both entertain and cause the audience to consider what and who really matters as we fill the days.
The structure in DYFSAW is at times difficult to follow—the women shift between narrating and commenting on the men’s action to the audience and participating in several a-chronological scenes with all four characters. The whiplash involved in trying to follow the story could have been mitigated through different staging choices such as lighting cues, or using blocking that indicates time and place. Perhaps Bragen hoped the action would feel something like the tennis ball, volleying back and forth, but it didn’t work as a storytelling tool.
While it’s difficult to know what happened and when, once we finally understand what actually went down in the blown-up fight that divided these two men who shared only tennis and two women who may never have enjoyed each other’s company at all, the show ultimately lacks a climax. That was the big fight? Why does this mean a chasm must open among this group of people? Or is it that they never cared for or knew one another at all?
Ironically, this is where DYFSAW succeeds. Anyone who has lived in New York between the years of college and kids will relate to Leslie’s struggle to make “real friends” in a city of people “[looking] past you,” to Kate’s desire to please and make peace (no matter how much yoga it takes), and to both men’s failing to self-actualize professionally.
The acting meets the caliber one expects in a small, Manhattan theater. None of the cast are consistently stand out, but Leslie and Russ outshine their respective partners in comedic timing and meatier character material. Each of them deliver moments of relatability for the audience.
The show has a few missteps in its structure and direction, including a jarring shift from Act I’s spare set of just a stark white line that suggest a tennis court to the more elaborate prop-heavy dinner scene in Act II. Still, DYFSAW offers a fun evening and manages to raise questions in an interesting way without trying to serve up all the answers.