Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 14, 2009


Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 19
by Bernadette Johnson

"The mind of man is a dark forest," playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman has one of his characters state, and Sherman sets about trying to enlighten that deep, dark recess in his newest comedy, "Knickerbocker," in its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Sherman invites us to probe along with him as Jerry (Reg Rogers), an "expectant father," uses friends, an ex-girlfriend, his father, and, of course, his wife as sounding boards as he confronts the gnawing question "Are you ready?" and anticipates how his life will be changed by fatherhood.

The entire play takes place in a booth at Jerry's favorite restaurant, the Knickerbocker, and though the waitstaff comes and goes without ever bringing a single platter, Rogers is definitely dealing with a plateful. He is onstage throughout the one-act performance and required by slight shifts to add variety to the scene. He does a spectacular job of injecting wit and sarcasm, and from tousled hair to pained expressions, portrays his fear of "screwing up."

Scenic designer Alexander Dodge has created a brilliantly colorful grid of New York images, including a sliding partition, which helps denote passage of time, as Rogers' wife, Pauline (Susan Pourfar), appears more advanced in her pregnancy with each encounter, and Jerry consults Melvin (Brooks Ashmanskas), a friend who is himself a father, ex- girlfriend Tara (Annie Parisse), a stoner friend Chester (Peter Dinklage) and his father, Raymond (Bob Dishy).

Except for the comings and goings of the waitstaff and slight booth shifts, there is very little action and it's up to the characters to keep the audience tuned in, which they do admirably well. One standout is Dinklage who, true to character, is "high" and climbs all over the booth and over his friend, all the while trying to impress the female members of the waitstaff. His vacant expressions, exaggerated speech and dry wit are welcome diversions from the otherwise day-to-day conversational tone of the piece. We are eavesdropping at best, but it's a fascinating exchange, leaving us uncertain of Jerry's readiness -- flirtations with ex, Tara, border on inappropriate -- but ready to lay odds in his favor after a touching final benediction to his unborn son.