When the anthropologist Clifford Geertz explored the term “Thick Description,” he posited that a factual account of life events simply was never enough. Rather, the true understanding of interrelations happens when complex layers are studied and subsequently interpreted.
“The Intimacy Effect,” a new play by Jeff Tabnick, opens on Thursday, September 28 at Vital Joint in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The company is led by veteran New York director Eric Nightengale. And the play is marked for those rich and complex layers. “I’m curious more in what the dialogue hides than in what it reveals,” said Nightengale.
“The conceit of the play is that a pregnant woman comes to Matt Appel’s apartment and accuses him of taking advantage of her in a bar,” the director explains. “When this woman convinces Matt’s wife that Matt is the father of her child, Matt’s wife finds that she’s relieved to have a reason to leave her husband. And when the accusation proves to be false, she has to figure out what to do with that feeling of relief.”
Tabnick, whose previous plays include “I Found Her Tied to My Bed,” “Something Truly Monstrous” and “An Idiot,” is known for his intriguing and comedic dialogue.
“In this play, comedy is used very self-consciously,” Tabnick explained. “In the beginning of the play, Ruth’s character, Merrily, tells a couple of stories about very public sexual scandals that she thinks are very funny. These stories make the other characters laugh and have so far made audiences laugh. But as the subject matter of the play becomes more serious, Merrily’s jokes are seen in another light — by Merrily herself and I think by audiences too. The question is very explicitly raised — when we make jokes about sexual scandals are we sending signals to our loved ones that that sort of behavior is amusing?”
Nightengale said he continues to be surprised by the script. “It presents itself as a clever, fun romp but we’re discovering all kinds of crazy dark matter below the surface — like laughing at something you know shouldn’t be funny. That’s uncomfortable, but in a really good way,” he said.
Both Tabnick and Nightengale spoke about the uncomfortable subject matter explored within the play. The company workshopped the production at Vital Joint over the summer. “There are issues of sexual consent and potential physical abuse in the play and the actors had a lot of input into what sort of language their characters would use when dealing with those issues,” explained Tabnick.
Nightengale is known for his superb ensemble-driven productions. From 1995-2008, he served as artistic director of 78th Street Theatre Lab and led the theater alongside Managing Director Ruth Nightengale (who acts in this production and is married to the director). The theater was known for some of the most vital, engaging and experimental work in New York City, also serving as a hub for Nightengale’s directing acumen.
Nightengale credits both the playwright and the actors for the productions thorough exploration. “Most audience members would assume that a play with this title written by a guy named Jeff would approach women’s issues (and female characters) in a very different way than that this play does,” he said. “And I’m constantly surprised at the cast’s ability to take a suggestion I’ve given them and respond with a choice that’s totally different — and much more compelling — than what I had in mind.”
According to Tabnick, Nightengale has made the production into an event. “The audience enters an apartment and eavesdrops on two couple grappling with serious issues,” he said. “Under Eric’s guidance, I think the company has carved out a play that explores how we deal with our partners differently after we have children, and asks how much of ourselves must we stifle to be good partners and parents.”
When asked about his experience working with this group of actors, Nightengale described it as “love at first sight. In my experience, strong ensembles result from high aspirations mixed with limited resources. And time. And drinking together after rehearsal. We have all those those things in spades. And we laugh a lot. If we can transfer the fun we’ve had discovering this play together into performance, the audience is in for a treat.”
Title Point in conjunction with Propinquity presents “The Intimacy Effect” by Jeff Tabnick. Directed by Eric Nightengale and performed by James Ball, Sarah Doudna, Jennifer O’Donnell, Richard Lovejoy and Ruth Nightengale.
Where: Vital Joint, 109 Meserole Street (near Manhattan Avenue), Brooklyn.
When: September 28 through October 14, 2017 at 8pm. Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8pm. Doors open at 7:30pm, and there is no late seating.
Ticket Information: Tickets are $20; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.