It’s Christmas Eve in New York City, and Sarah and Sam are enjoying a night in together, basking in the joyful fog of early dating. Then, there’s a knock at the door. It’s Sarah’s childhood best friend, Nate, and his arrival changes the trajectory of all three of their lives. A Delicate Ship, written by Anna Ziegler and currently in its west coast premiere at The Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood, examines our relationship with nostalgia, and what to do when remembering the past becomes a disservice to the present.
Sarah (Paris Perrault) has had an extremely difficult year. Her father passed away in January, and after struggling to put the pieces of her life back together after that loss, she has finally found happiness again with her new boyfriend, Sam (Philip Orazio). Sam is sweet and thoughtful, if a bit vanilla—a musician who describes himself as shy and enjoys waxing philosophic. He’s the level of ordinary and comforting that is often appealing to women in their early 30s, and his relationship with Sarah has moved quickly.
Nate enters the apartment like a cyclone of memories and emotion. He is loud and animated, the type of person who is either tons of fun or really exhausting, depending on your mood. He and Sarah lived a floor apart as children and have been close ever since, although Sarah would never give him the satisfaction of knowing she indeed thinks of him as her best friend. They share childhood secrets and memories of major life events, and Nate has come to visit supposedly to carry on a Christmas Eve tradition where they would meet in the stairwell and smoke a joint together. It gradually becomes apparent that Nate has ulterior motives for his visit, and feelings for Sarah that go deeper than friendship. It’s telling that Sarah has never mentioned Nate to Sam, which of course makes Sam immediately suspicious.
Directed by Andre Barron, A Delicate Ship primarily unfolds over the course of one evening, but also includes memories of the past and glimpses of the future. The actors address the audience, describing important moments such as the time Sarah and Sam first met, and adding their own feelings and commentary. This structure is also used for foreshadowing, with Sarah repeatedly lamenting with increasing urgency that she wonders what may have been different had she never opened the door to Nate the night in question. Ultimately, such heavy-handed teasing makes the play’s ending inevitable and predictable. The story might be better serviced if Ziegler focused only on telling a linear story of the one eventful night. Necessary backstory could be easily incorporated, given that the two men know nothing about each other, and the climax might pack more of a punch if the events played out as an ordinary evening spiraling out of control without ominous warnings of what’s to come.
Nate is a difficult character to get behind. Zuckerman gives a spirited, layered performance, but Ziegler’s writing and Perrault’s reactions make it difficult to establish if this borderline belligerent behavior is his status quo. By the time Nate’s vulnerability begins to seep through, it’s too little too late, and opportunities for poignancy are overshadowed by his aggressive interactions with Sarah and Sam. Potentially meaningful moments grow frustrating, and opportunities for more depth in the character dynamics are never fully seized. A final scene that feels tacked-on is unnecessary and focuses on the relationship that means the least in the context of the story, making you once again wonder if time would be better spent living in one emotional scene rather than jumping around. As in her play Actually, about which I had similarly mixed feelings, Ziegler shows here a knack for writing polarizing young characters who often speak in beautiful metaphors. But there is a disconnect, and the bridge between past and future that is so central to the ideas of the story is tenuous at best, getting lost in the fog of muddled expectations.
A Delicate Ship runs at The Road on Magnolia through March 11th. The running time is 80 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $34 and can be purchased here.