By Hailey Nuthals, Arts Editor
Consider, for a moment, a few favorite old adages: it’s the thought that counts, but actions speak louder than words. They’re bit contradictory when paired together, as you surely see. It’s this sense of contradiction and cliche that accompanies Jenna Langbaum’s production “The Night of Blue and Salt,” on now as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The play, performed in one act, is described as written in the Absurdist style, and claims to follow the story of “Wife” as she “gradually [dismantles] the shackles of domesticity and a loveless marriage to be the dramatic feminist ingenue she always longed to be.”
The script is very clearly Absurdist, focusing on futility, repetitive cycles, and ultimate expiration. The plot follows the saccharine romance of Wife (Jenna Langbaum, also the writer, director, and producer) and Man (Andrew Gibeley) to its bitter, salty end. Wife begins as an aspiring writer (“I can see you writing words in your head!”), only to become a “slave” to her husband as he achieves his own dreams of becoming a surgeon. Their partnering is strongly discouraged by Wife’s mother (Anna Jastrembski), but she dies soon enough, leaving Wife alone to burn the sauce day after day in an apron that’s haphazardly tied around her red dress. (The metaphor that the apron ties her to her domestic life is rather strongly suggested.)
The story is broken up with narration by Wife in the future sense- between scenes of aprons and saucepans, she dons a large leopard-print jacket and puffs on a cigarette, musing dramatically on her own life in snippets that reveal that even as she hated her husband, she loved him too. The whole thing begins quite quickly to feel cliche, and thoroughly blurs the line between Theater of the Absurd and simply unoriginal. Endless sauces are burned, endless suicide attempts are sloppily conducted by Wife and consequently overlooked by Man, endless instances of dangerous manipulation and control are forced onto Wife. It almost feels like Cher Horowitz decided to write a feminist play.
Over the timeline of the play, 400-something attempts of suicide are made, though it seems like most of those are the moments in the morning when Wife holds her breath as long as she can and prays for death (which seems like an obviously futile attempt at the act). The audience clearly sympathizes with Wife – her husband is awful and her life empty. Following the death of their baby daughter, the audience is given the play’s strongest bit of acting with Man’s desolate monologue — his only one, the single glimpse into his side of the story. As one expects, it offers not pity but further justification to blame him for his wife’s misery.
At the play’s final moment, the long-awaited climax and foretold “night of blue and salt,” Wife frees herself of her shackles. Man appears to do the same (though we’ve been given no hint of his sadness, and so there’s a bit of confusion as to whether we’re supposed to pity him as well). It’s all melodramatic in a boring way, broken up with quotes by Virginia Woolf and statistics about hyposexual desire disorder. One wants to enjoy it, and almost can, but the framing of Theater of the Absurd makes it hard to tell if we’re supposed to enjoy it at all or if the sense of mild confusion and impression of ham-handedness was, after all, the playwright’s intent.
“The Night of Blue and Salt” is playing as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at 64E4 Mainstage, located at 64 East 4th Street, through August 26th. Tickets and other information can be found here.