Adam LeFevre in HERMAN KLINE'S MIDLIFE CRISIS. Photo by Robert J. Saferstein.
BOTTOM LINE: A tightly written, well-acted, three act dramedy that takes place on one tumultuous day in the life of trauma doctor Herman Kline.
Herman Kline’s Midlife Crisis opens in the somewhat messy kitchen of Liz and Herman Kline. Liz (Kathryn Kates), a long-suffering, bored, stay-at-home wife and mother, is drinking coffee and chattering about this-and-that, while an overweight, distracted Herman (Adam LeFevre) reads the newspaper. In due course Liz reveals the reason for that day’s angst: she has learned that Herman skipped yesterday’s lunch, missed a staff meeting, and was seen leaving the office of a particularly attractive female colleague, his tie loosened. Herman is aghast, but assures his wife that he is not fooling around. “I’ve been feeling like time is running out while I shovel shit in my mouth,” he confesses. He then continues, explaining that the night before a young stabbing victim — “he had the most angelic face” — came into the O.R. but was too far gone to be saved. Worse, he tells Liz that he discovered a bag of drugs deep inside the victim’s rectum, which, for reasons he doesn’t understand, he decided to keep. In short order Herman turns from middle-aged-man into gleeful kid — a child who knows he’s done wrong, but doesn’t care because he feels so exhilarated by the talisman he’s scavenged.
Scene two introduces Lauren Axelrod (Mary Quick), the college student daughter of one of Herman’s co-workers, and her former boyfriend, Ernie Santos (Bobby Moreno), a fast-talking hunk who seems able to see-saw between charming scoundrel and terrified little boy without taking a breath. The pair met when they were both students at the pricey, high-prestige Fieldston School, he a scholarship student and she a wealthy academic star. Ernie has since left Lauren’s privileged world and now supports himself by dealing drugs; he’s also often high. Lauren is an aspiring doctor. When Ernie arrives at Lauren’s home, it’s partly to search for comfort and partly to search for a way out of the mess he’s currently mired in. In jumpy fits-and-starts Ernie reveals that the night before, he was supposed to pick up $50,000 worth of crack cocaine from a guy who never showed up. That guy, he tells Lauren, is now rumored to be dead. And the drugs? They’re missing, something that puts Ernie in serious danger.
Scene three places the wily Ernie on the roof of Mount Sinai Hospital with Dr. Herman Kline. It’s a beautifully written and taut encounter, full of the revelatory exchanges that occur when two people who are unlikely to ever see one another again manage to ever-so-briefly connect. Indeed, it may be Herman Kline’s midlife crisis that is nominally the focus, but it is Ernie’s tragic situation that captures center stage. “I didn’t know at age twelve that my life was already half over,” Ernie matter-of-factly announces. When he tearfully states that he wishes he could start over, it has gravitas not just for him, but also for Kline and, maybe, ourselves.
Josh Koenigsberg’s script is largely unpredictable, and the weaving of comedy and tragedy is effective. The play asks big questions — about the meaning of life, about the secrets we harbor, about aging and the role of memory, and about the ways we hurt and sometimes betray those we think we love. It’s a touching brew. What’s more, the encounters never feel contrived. In fact, while the coincidences might have been groan-worthy in less skilled hands, both the acting and writing are so good that the audience never feels manipulated.
(Herman Kline’s Midlife Crisis plays through September 3, 2011 at the Samuel Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $42.50 and can be ordered through telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. For more show info visit hermanklinesmidlifecrisis.com.)