Review: Knickerbocker

Jonathan Marc Sherman looks at pregnancy in a navel-gazing new play.

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

    THERE'S THE RUB Chaplin contemplates fatherhood with Barron

    THERE'S THE RUB Chaplin contemplates fatherhood with Barron.

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

    Knickerbocker

    Knickerbocker

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

    Knickerbocker

    Knickerbocker

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

    Knickerbocker

    Knickerbocker

Photograph: Carol Rosegg

THERE'S THE RUB Chaplin contemplates fatherhood with Barron

THERE'S THE RUB Chaplin contemplates fatherhood with Barron.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

The more you know about Jonathan Marc Sherman, the more resonance his sincere but overly ruminative new play may have for you. Sherman's first success was 1988's semiautobiographical Women and Wallace, staged by the Young Playwrights Festival when he was just 19; Knickerbocker could easily be its sequel. Jerry (Chaplin), a 40-year-old man struggling to let go of childhood trauma as fatherhood looms with wife Pauline (Barron), might be Wallace 20-odd years later, still haunted by the suicide of his mother when he was six. But despite—or maybe because of—what seems like Sherman's personal stake in the characters, Knickerbocker plays like a memoir that only sporadically comes to dramatic life.

Set in the Greenwich Village eatery after which it's named, the play chronicles successive months of Jerry's wife's pregnancy. Six of the seven scenes in Pippin Parker's sedentary production involve two people who never leave the spacious semicircular leather booth of Peter Ksander's set. That lack of mobility doesn't prevent Off Broadway notables like Christina Kirk, Ben Shenkman and a wild-eyed Zak Orth from bringing color and playfulness to their roles (as Jerry's ex-girlfriend and a pair of longtime friends). But wittily quirky often devolves into relentlessly self-involved, especially in Jerry's case; the amiable Chaplin nearly drowns in his tiresome character's sea of clever but trivial dialogue. He is rescued from the shallows in Knickerbocker's inspired penultimate scene, as Jerry confronts his fear of loss and abandonment in a tender conversation with his dad (a subtly potent Dishy). This encounter could be its own short play, and perhaps it should have been; like parents, playwrights don't always need a lot of words to speak volumes.

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Public Theater. By Jonathan Marc Sherman. Dir. Pippin Parker. With Alexander Chaplin, Mia Barron, Bob Dishy. 1hr 25mins. No intermission.