The best word to describe this show is pure. Seventy-five minutes of pure heart, pure warmth, pure fun. Go see it, and you’ll come out wanting to hug every loved one you have. According to Rory, you absolutely need four hugs daily just for survival, eight for maintenance, or twelve for growth, after all, so consider it an investment in yourself.
Erin Mallon’s The Net Will Appear traces an unlikely friendship between two neighbors: the hardened, 75-year-old veteran Bernard (Richard Masur) and the optimistic, tireless 9-year-old schoolgirl Rory (Eve Johnson). The plot is developed entirely through conversations exchanged from their respective rooftops. Their first chat is initiated by Rory’s mere childish curiosity in Bernard’s solitude, but over the course of several months, they find in each other the love of a “bonus” father and daughter which is missing from their lives.
Simple? Very. Cheesy? Slightly. But it’s that charming kind of cheesiness you find in Hallmark movies, the kind you just can’t help but love, especially now that holiday cheer is in the air. Plus, the show’s hysterical. The characters’ sharp wit offsets what could have been a strictly saccharine story, and thus sets it above any Hallmark movie. You don’t know what will come out of either character’s mouth at any given moment. It’s often a toss-up between wisdom or a wisecrack, and either way it’s gold. A personal favorite is Rory’s keen observation that we humans are just “meatsuits walking the world, our true essences hidden under all the gristle.”
Richard Masur’s Bernard is especially candid and sharp-tongued. Where his performance really stands out, though, are in the moments where he steps off his wit to show Rory and the audience a nurturing and tender side. We’re reminded of the fatherly instinct Bernard hasn’t gotten to use in a long time. And Eve Johnson shines as the precocious young Rory. The character is nine going on twenty-nine, and if the production had any flaw it’s that she speaks so maturely for her age it doesn’t seem natural at first. We soon realize, though, she’s a master at “regurgitating” the words of adults and has already had to do her share of growing up. There’s still a lot she doesn’t know about the world, such as the difference between “sexy” and “sexist” or what it really means when a man has a sleepover with a woman and fails to invite his wife. Within Mallon’s text, Johnson excellently blends childhood energy and innocence with an air of wisdom beyond her character’s years that is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming to watch.
It didn’t take me long to realize why I was so captivated. Rory announces right away that she wants to be a choreographer, a dolphin trainer, and a detective all at once when she grows up. Funny enough, I once wanted to be a choreographer, a marine biologist (close enough), and a detective at different points in my own childhood. At one point in the show, Rory performs for Bernard a tap solo set to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”- a song I myself did a tap solo to as a young dancer. I saw myself in Rory to a scarily uncanny degree, but it’s possible for anyone to see their daughters, their granddaughters, and their own younger selves in Rory’s huge personality. Bernard is just as accessible- you might find yourself skeptical of this little girl at first, but you’ll grow to love her, right alongside Bernard as he does the same throughout the play. And there’s something to be said for such a show, a simple encouragement to spread a little more love in the world.