God's Ear

GOOD GRIEF Frazier, left, and Kirk lose a child.

GOOD GRIEF Frazier, left, and Kirk lose a child. Photograph: Jim Baldassare

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Gertrude Stein, whose fingerprints are all over Jenny Schwartz’s tremendous new play God’s Ear, liked to say, “A sentence is not emotional a paragraph is.” It’s a good tip for any writer—keep the details cool but your structure hot—but rarely do you see a playwright make the mama of modernism so proud. Constructed almost entirely from chains of clichs (“And the fog will lift. And we’ll see eye to eye. And the cows will come home”), God’s Ear uses repetition in ways that at first seem meaningless—even irritating. But as the sentences pile into drifts, they begin to amass an emotional heaviness totally independent of their syntactic function.

The plot is simple: A little boy drowns; his parents (Christina Kirk, Gibson Frazier) separate from grief; the husband picks up women; the surviving daughter (Monique Vukovic) hopes Dad will come home. Then Schwartz adds a thin skin of humor: Whimsical characters bob up like flotsam—G.I. Joe (Matthew Montelongo), the Tooth Fairy (Judith Greentree) and a drunken floozy (Annie McNamara) warble Michael Friedman’s songs adorably off-key. Obviously, these tricks—even the daring attitude of its text—aren’t new. What is revolutionary is Schwartz’s ability to make linguistic gamesmanship into something profoundly moving.

Director Anne Kauffman keeps her nonpareil cast skating across Kris Stone’s clever, trapdoor-riddled set, and has everyone treading lightly in this odd, delicate play. It’s a remarkable event, a rare piece of total theater. Take it from my lips: Go to God’s Ear. — Helen Shaw

East 13th Street Theater . By Jenny Schwartz. Dir. Anne Kauffman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.