This Flat Earth--A Flawed But Heartfelt New Play
By Joseph Cervelli
Lindsey Ferrentino is a playwright who knows how to combine humor along with grief and compassion in her plays. Her “Ugly Lies the Bone” was a moving tale about a returning physically scarred female war veteran trying to put her life back together. Her “Amy and the Orphans” dealt with family relationships and new discoveries about themselves. Ferrentino's current and heartfelt new play “This Flat Earth” at Playwrights Horizons deals with the aftermath of a school shooting focusing on one thirteen year old Julie (an unforgettably good Ella Kennedy Davis) who finds it difficult to return to school after a recent dedication ceremony for a deceased student, Noelle. The school is to reopen the following day.
Ferrentino and the perpetually fine director Rebecca Taichman(“Indecent”) both have the ability to understand young people and their moods as is evident in this slightly flawed but, nevertheless, absorbing new play.
Dane Laffrey’s set is on two levels. The bottom floor is the apartment shared by Julie and her single parent dad Dan (Lucas Papaelias) who is struggling to make ends meet while working at the water company. Upstairs is the elderly woman Cloris (Lynda Gravatt) who is bit of an enigma. She is a solitary figure who never seems to leave her apartment but would rather read while putting on a Bach Cello Suite on her phonograph. As a nice touch, there is an excellent cellist (Christine H. Kim) who plays the composition in the audience.
The play begins on a playful note with Julie and her friend Zander (an excellent Ian Saint-Germain) watching a film on a laptop while he would prefer getting just a bit romantic by kissing her. Much of their dialogue is pure teenage banter including her wanting to move to Japan because she heard that they have the ability there to increase her “boobs.”
Her dad arrives with Noelle’s mom Lisa (a very believable Cassie Beck) who has asked Dan to store boxes of tinned popcorn that her late daughter won in a fundraiser. Lisa is barely holding it together and through the smiles and attempts at laughter she breaks down into bouts of tears.
We later find out that Julie really should not be attending this particular school she is because she is out of district. Her father lied to the school administrator about exactly where they live so Julie who is a talent violinist could benefit from school’s superior music program rather than the other one closer to her home. Things take an unfortunate term when Lisa finds this out.
Some aspects of the play don’t exactly ring true. Julie is surprised to learn this is not the first school shooting in the States. It is hard to believe that no student, especially Zander, would not have discussed this. Also, Lisa’s reasoning to alert the school about Julie’s home location seems too far fetched even with the reason she gives.
Because Ferrentino exudes such warm humanity in all her works without being maudlin it is easy to overlook these moments.
While Papaelias seems a bit uneasy in his portrayal of the widowed dad, the others are solid in their roles most especially Davis who runs the gamut of emotions as a teenager. Her relationship with Zander is especially natural and her final moment alone of the stage is breathtaking.
Growing up with all the pains involved is not easy for a teen not going through a catastrophic school incident let alone dealing with what has occurred. And the last scene has a transcendental and spiritual quality that will result in some discussion.
I always anticipate what Ferrentino is planning for her next play ever since the beautifully written “Ugly” and despite certain reservations here, she and Taichman have created a vivid work of living with constant uncertainty in the world
Tickets are available at Playwrights Horizons 416 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.279.4200.
The play runs through April 29.
PHOTOS CREDIT: JOAN MARCUS