Parents’ Evening

A comfortably bourgeois bedroom is the setting for Parents’ Evening, written by Bathsheba Doran (SoA ’03) and presented by The Flea Theater. The bedroom is the center of the married life of Judy (Julianne Nicholson) and Michael (James Waterston). Both are nervous about Parents’ Evening that night at daughter Jessica’s school; the unseen Jessica is apparently far from a model student and has already been the subject of complaints from various teachers and parents.

The ensuing show never leaves this bedroom, these characters, or this premise. What follows is about 90 minutes of Judy and Michael’s endless arguing. Although Jessica is ostensibly the subject of the debate, the central topic is the relationship between Judy and Michael, all the quotidien trials and tribulations of a marriage that has lost its sparkle.

There’s no real suspense throughout the play, or even much plot. Judy and Michael bicker endlessly, about the proper way to discipline their daughter, about how much time they share, about their respective careers (she’s a workaholic lawyer, he’s an author struggling with writer’s block). But these arguments never rise above the mundane to the level of deep insight. There’s never any serious question that the two might break up, or lose custody of their daughter, or any other grave outcome. It is clear throughout the evening that Judy and Michael would remain Judy and Michael, muddling along as most of us do.

The banal is far from boring though. Nicholson and Waterston have remarkable chemistry, a delicate combination of the ease of a long-term relationship and the edginess of uncertain value. Certain fearful questions circulate throughout the dialogue: Am I a bad parent? Am I a bad spouse?

Playwright Doran tempers this anxiety with a healthy dose of humor. Waterston especially displays a masterful ability to make ordinary pettiness hilarious. In their discussions, neither Judy nor Michael is ever “right,” ever totally on the same page. These missed communications provide ample fodder for comedy- the familiar situations are funny when you’re not directly involved.

Parents’ Evening is not exactly groundbreaking. It lacks the vicious wit of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Company, God of Carnage, or any number of stellar theatrical examinations of married life. Nevertheless, it does provide an engaging look at the daily struggles of parenthood and the humor, anxiety, and uncertainty therein.

Parents’ Evening is showing through May 29 at The Flea Theater. 10% discount for Columbians. More information available here.

Nicholson (left) and Waterston in Parents' Evening

Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10

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