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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 13, 2017

Ben Mehl, Rachel Mewbron, and Suzy Jane Hunt
Photo by Steve Fallon

Having kids changes you in a million unpredictable ways, not all of them good, as the four characters learn in Wheelhouse Theater Company's premiere production of Lawrence Dial's DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA at the 4th Street Theater.

Danny (Ben Mehl), a stay-at-home dad, and Kris (Suzy Jane Hunt), a stay-at-home mom, meet cute in a Brooklyn park, where each of them is pushing a baby stroller and trying to keep tabs on their respective three-year-olds at the same time. When we first encounter them, they are both in such a state of sleep-deprived lunacy, you are convinced you are seeing a romantic comedy that will surely end with the two of them married or living together and raising all four children under one roof.

But the playwright does not lead us down that familiar pathway after all. Instead, he upends our expectations as we learn more about the beleaguered pair and their respective spouses, Danny's wife Donna (Rachel Mewbron), a gifted mathematician with a blossoming career, and Kris's wife Veronica (Liz Wisan), who is struggling to make ends meet at her family's pizza restaurant, a long-standing money pit of a business that is suffering under the blows of their Brooklyn neighborhood's gentrification.

Both marriages have established a division of labor, wherein Donna and Veronica work outside of the home, while Danny and Kris do the child rearing. It seemed to be a reasonable and economically sound way of handling things, but raising children on a fulltime basis turns out to be difficult. The two caregivers develop a simpatico relationship out of their mutual sense of drowning in the perpetual demands on their lives. (The "drowning" analogy is apt, as Justin Propper's sound design incorporates lots of rain, and even a leaky roof). But even if misery loves company, it turns out that Danny and Kris are each floundering in different ways.

Kris has suffered a crisis of the soul that has caused her to abandon her former career as a nurse. Staying at home with the children helps to compensate, but the loss of her income is creating a deepening rift between her and Veronica. For his part, Danny spent many fruitless years trying to establish a career as a musician, until he and Donna settled on their current routine. Danny understands he has no right to be resentful, and he tries to be supportive of his wife's increasing responsibilities at work. But it has become too much for him to bear.

More than anything, what is damaging to both marriages is a failure to communicate openly. Everyone wants to be seen as competent and is unable to admit to needing help. A plot twist that involves an injury to one of the kids brings the couples together, and their discussions result in a measure of improvement in their lives. But all four parents and their marriages will need nurturing, and it will take time and hard work to rebuild their relationships.

DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA is an ambitious play that, after it establishes its premise and conflict, does not offer easy solutions. Relationships are complicated, and while, by the end, Kris seems to be on a more solid footing, Danny remains lost, unsure if he has any identity outside of parenting, and whether that is enough to sustain him. All four cast members, under Jeff Wise's direction, do an excellent job of bringing out the complex nature of their characters. Ben Mehl is especially strong as Danny, combining elements of goofy humor, passive-aggressive behavior, and a struggle to figure out his place in the world. Lawrence Dial, the playwright, has had a number of well-received productions of his plays in the past several years, and he definitely is a writer to follow.

Through January 28
4th Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery
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