by Jake Lipman · August 12, 2014
Destiny is Judd Nelson, a new play by Sarah Goncalves, directed by Olivia Hartle, marks the BIG Theatre Company’s second production and second time in FringeNYC. A large ensemble piece, Destiny cycles through various combinations of its cast of eleven, playing assorted lovelorn New Yorkers on the subway, on dates, chatting online and in therapy. While each character is a readily identifiable type (the bartender who really wants to write, the over-served husband, his angry wife, the sexy playwright, the needy actor), Destiny is Judd Nelson struggles to further flesh out its characters and their view of destiny.
Nonetheless, the cast features many gifted performers, notably the raven-haired Sarah Misch as an effortlessly sensual playwright named Nora, and the warm and thoroughly believable Justin Phillips playing Man and Jack. Both actors do their darndest to overcome monolithic monologues with clear-eyed honesty. Theresa Burns, as a therapist, delivers equally believable moments while Alexandra Brown, in a few small comedic roles, added sass to her scenes.
Other actors were hard to hear and harder still to follow, as nearly every exchange was delivered at a rapid-fire rate, allowing little time to digest dialogue. I was repeatedly taken out of the play by gratuitous profanity and graphically described sexual encounters, both of which seemed incongruous in an otherwise romantically-toned play. Static staging, with couple after couple seated facing out, cheated the characters of the ability to truly connect to each other.
Kurt Cruz as Jimmy seemed miscast; Sammi Cains as the ever-ebullient Amy seemed determined to brighten every one of her scenes with her infectious smile.
Scenic designer Keith Plokhoy and lighting designer Ben Danielowski ably met the challenge of creating countless locations through quick re-configurations of four benches, aided by a gauze divider and mood-setting gels. Ken Kruber’s sound design vacillated between satisfying slice-of-life sound effects and various pop songs played jarringly loudly, including repeated renditions of The Breakfast Club movie’s end-credit song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.
Aside from one character’s fixation with Judd Nelson and the repeated playing of the Breakfast Club’s anthem, I could not find a connection between the title and the vignettes that comprise Destiny is Judd Nelson. Upon exiting the theater, I found a slip of paper inserted into our playbills, which read, “Destiny is ____________.” This slip of paper jogged my memory of the closing narration in The Breakfast Club by John Hughes, in which the ensemble sums up their time together by saying, “You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… and an athlete… and a basket case…a princess… and a criminal. Does that answer your question?” Despite an appealing cast and nimble transitions, Destiny is Judd Nelson fails to meaningfully explore its characters’ destinies through to such a thoughtful conclusion.