The three characters in Renee Phillippi’s dark new play, Alone in Triptych, are islands unto themselves. They speak, but we never hear or see the other side of their conversations. Though they sometimes share the stage, they never meet. Misery and alienation, captivity and abuse, ultimately, are the ties that unite their solitary trials.
While Phillippi shows considerable skill in evoking emotion and action in those silences, the gaps in her play are perhaps more profound than intended. The set, like the play itself, is a study in sparsity. Three stations resembling boulders sit far apart on the stage. A few sliding screens covered in wallpaper serve little function, except occasionally to show a projection of a bird in flight. For the most part, though, the sense of scene, like much of the play’s dialogue, is left to the imagination.
We meet Leeann (Vera Beren) first, alone and speaking to the air in a thick New Jersey accent. Her boyfriend, Sean, is there in spirit, if not in voice or body, and Leeann responds accordingly, in real time. It’s a relatively peaceful scene, and for most of it, Beren is able to highlight the character’s comic elements while hinting subtly at her quiet desperation and self-loathing. As her story progresses, however, that desperation transforms into outright panic as police come to investigate the rape of a teenage girl in the neighborhood.
Lori’s relationship, meanwhile, is troubled from the outset. When we meet her, she’s practicing a series of lame and sexist jokes (“How is a woman like an airplane? Both have cockpits.”) to tell her husband Mike, a sergeant at an Army base in Bavaria, Germany. When he comes home, he threatens her with violence and she begs to be spared in return for sexual favors. The scene is disheartening as it is emblematic of Lori’s troubled relationship with men generally. Catherine Porter, directed by Philippi and Eric Nightengale, makes several unseen characters, their presence large but invisible, as tangible as her own.
Remi (Michael Tomlinson) is the least developed of the three characters, in part because his invisible partner, a 12-year-old girl whom he has kidnapped, can’t speak. In fact, for most of the play, she can’t move, as he’s bound and gagged her. He’s done so, ostensibly, to save her from other people who, he says, tend to disappoint. Gradually, we get the sense that these three strangers are linked not only by similarities in their personalities and relationships but that their stories are in fact connected. Besides serving as a neat narrative technique, however, it’s not clear what purpose this serves. Though related, the scenarios don’t impact one another, and the common thread between them adds little to the play’s larger meaning other than an already obvious point about the universality of human isolation.
When those greater themes are addressed, Phillippi’s hand is sometimes too heavy. Speaking to his captive, Remi speaks in platitudes. “People … we’re better off without them. Trust me. People make life hard. We are better without them. They always fuck things up,” he says. While he may lack in originality, Remi’s experiences and those of Lori and Leeann support that sentiment. Indeed, this is not a play of redemption. We meet Lori, Leeann and Remi at low points in their lives, and as the play progresses, they descend still deeper. A story of human loneliness needs no dressing up, but it could use a bit more direction.