For its final play of the season, Manhattan Theatre Club is presenting the world premiere of an unsettling drama by award-winning British playwright Penelope Skinner (The Village Bike). The play is set in a dystopian England of the future where the government tightly regulates most aspects of life and empathy is in short supply. Silver (Tim Daly) is an anal-retentive writer who has been doing research on a novel for nine years. His sensitive wife Dolores (Rachael Holmes) has been troubled by things they have just seen on a trip to an island that is about to vanish due to climate change. Joy (Orlagh Cassidy) is the government functionary who visits the couple periodically to check on Dolores. Apparently the couple’s stipend has been temporarily trimmed until Dolores gets over having thoughts that are against government policy. Without consulting her husband, Dolores invites Mara (Roxanna Hope), an immigrant from the doomed island, to occupy their spare room. Complications ensue. Through seemingly offhand remarks, Skinner builds a chilling picture of a society that is plausible enough to make one uncomfortable. The actors were fine except for an occasional stumble over accents. Neil Patel’s attractive set has subtle hints of futurity and Jessica Pabst’s costumes, particularly the jackets and shoes for Silver, are stylishly modern. Some aspects of the plot do not stand up to close examination, the emotional temperature could use a boost and the first act could use a trim. Nevertheless, the play held my interest and raised issues that merit our attention. Leah C. Gardiner directed. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes, including intermission.
NOTE: The three most interesting plays of the MTC season were all by foreign playwrights (Florian Zeller, Nick Payne and Penelope Skinner). Three others were by MTC old timers — Richard Greenberg, David Lindsay-Abaire and John Patrick Shanley. Add in a mediocre revival (Fool for Love) and an absolutely ghastly new play (Important Hats of the Twentieth Century). Can MTC do better? Hope springs eternal.