Monday, October 02, 2006

I (Heart) Kant

"I just realized I'm suspicious of happiness. I'm afraid of happiness."

Ken Urban's ambitious though somewhat slight I (Heart) Kant, which is presented by the Committee Theatre Company and playing for one more night at 440 Studios' Linhart Theater, is about four very different women in New Jersey trying to find happiness in very different ways. Or, as Mr. Urban puts it, "the women search for happiness and instead stumble upon the sublime."

One woman, Linda (played by Kate Benson), is a graduate student who has been working on her dissertation on 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. After four years of writing, she only has one chapter. And by "one chapter," I mean, "one sentence."

Another woman, Betsy (Frances Mercanti-Anthony), freaking out about turning 30, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after attending a family reunion, getting drunk and having sex with her brother (whoops). To try to take her mind off things, she (reluctantly) sees a therapist and has unfulfilling sex with random strangers who are much more deviant than they appear.

Pam (Edelen McWilliams), a divorced mom, works in a warehouse, spends much of her time trying to convince Betsy to give therapy a try and may have been killed in a terrorist bombing (in the program notes, Mr. Urban explains that he completed the play in February 2001 and hadn't changed a word since).

Maureen (Kate Downing), Linda's younger sister, is a substitute teacher and heroin addict who gets slapped around by her boyfriend.

These are some deeply unhappy women.

The one male in the cast, Steven Boyer, plays various men in the lives of these women, from Maureen's abusive and deadbeat boyfriend to an obnoxious grad student who writes a paper on "vagueness" to Betsy's semi-anonymous one-night-stand.

Mr. Urban's I (Heart) Kant (subtitled A Play About Happiness) shows how these women's separate searches for happiness and meaning interconnect in direct and ineffable ways. Dylan McCullough's direction maintains the humor throughout the show despite its (very) depressing elements and keeps the disparate plotlines flowing smoothly. All four actresses are excellent, as is Mr. Boyer as The Guy. The character I suppose I empathized with the most was Betsy (although no, I have not had any incestuous relationships, thank you very much and I'm not freaking out too much about turning 30). Lee Savage's set literally boxes the women in (they each remain on their respective segments of the stage, each of which is separated by walls).

It is, in short, quite a nice play that's worth seeing, even if you are a complete novice when it comes to the philosophy of Kant (as I am).

Having stated that, one of the problems with I (Heart) Kant is (and I never thought I'd say this about a play ever) that it should be longer.

Yes, longer.

The show, a one-act, clocks in at under an hour and fifteen minutes and could stand to be a two-act piece. As it stands now, the ending (to me) seemed very abrupt; it has the feeling of being over as soon as it starts.

Despite this quibble, you should check it out if you have the chance (and you do indeed have one last chance).

I (Heart) Kant closes tonight at 440 Studios' Linhart Theater on 440 Lafayette Street (third floor). You can buy tickets here.

Stumbling upon Sublime

James "40 Ounces To Freedom" Comtois

Ps. If the show ends up being sold out, feel free to join me at this in Williamsburg.

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Blogger Mike Mariano said...

Hey, I just saw I ♥ Kant this evening. I would have been there the same night as you, James, if I hadn't fallen asleep instead.

I had wanted to see Ken Urban's work ever since reading an Orange County review of the entire New Jersey Trilogy. Urban got the West Coast excited, but he didn't have the same impact on his home turf. His name never popped up as a playwright, only as a sometime-reviewer for So it's good that he's getting his due.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

It is. I saw a reading of Nibbler (part of his New Jersey Trilogy) and really liked it. I'm interested in seeing that staged as well as his other chapter.

11:19 AM  

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