Second Opinion Off-Broadway Review: “In a Word”

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage Blog Associate New York Critic

Indescribable maternal grief caused by the loss of a child wrapped in absurdity and melancholy

-          You don’t remember me, do you?

-          I’m sorry, should I?

-          Think I had your kid.

-          In class?

-          In captivity.

Just small talk with a twist at the supermarket. A horrible thing said in the friendliest way could be scary, hilarious, head spinning, disorienting or strangely fitting. In a Word by Lauren Yee is all of that. The playfulness with which she bends time, space and the language itself is beautifully embodied on the stage of the Cherry Lane Theatre, in the production by Lesser America.

Guy and Fiona lost their seven-year-old son, Tristan, two years ago. They are supposed to go out for dinner but Fiona keeps lingering and moving around boxes with newspaper cutouts in their obsessively organized living room. The sad anniversary seems to be a signal to move on for Guy (Jose Joaquin Perez) but Fiona (Laura Ramadei) is still in a state of shock, grasping for memories and trying to help the investigation. As the couple relives the day of their son’s disappearance, Fiona is desperately trying to connect the dots and get in touch with herself and reality.    

The only other actor in the cast, Justin Mark, plays Tristan as well at seven other parts, transitioning between them effortlessly. He is a kidnapper with a neatly staffed supermarket basket, buying a cantaloupe. Next second he is a missing persons detective offering Fiona a cut up cantaloupe that she just brought to the police as evidence. You better catch up quickly if you want to follow the stream of a devastated woman’s consciousness. While being imaginative and poetic, it has it’s own logic and is perfectly organized. But much like the set, designed by Oona Curley, Fiona’s memory has a lot of shelves and doors, the opening of which leads to the outpouring of clutter.

The absurdity of In a Word is just the right temperature, not too cold, not too hot and found its perfect match in the director Tyne Rafaeli. The mostly realistic acting might trick you into “living room drama” mode but the text pushes you out of the comfort zone again and again making you hover between compassion and curiosity. The play feels like ice-skating on the lake. It’s fun and exciting to experience the ways you can move around, yet when you think of the black void beneath you, you don’t feel as light any more. Imagine now, that the ice on the lake is semi-transparent and you can see the darkness of the water.

Fiona has been looking at this darkness for two years now, engulfed by guilt and self-doubt. Was she a good mother? Did she make adequate decisions while raising a difficult child? Was Tristan just restless or did he really need some special help? Yee puts her character in front of some really tough questions about parenthood, especially considering the tragic circumstances.   

With loss comes the inability to put your grief into words. The words seem to fall down as leaves from the trees. Faithfull to their ornate shape and festive colors, they don’t have life in them anymore. At some point Fiona says: “In times like these, words fail me. Like, they just stop trying. Like, whatever they were doing before, they don’t now.” Luckily the words never fail Yee. And a wonderful cast never fails filling them with indescribable, unbearable and real emotions.    


In a Word runs at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, through July 8th. The running time is 80 minutes with no intermission. Performances Wednesday – Friday at 8pm andSaturday at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are $25, available at 212-352-3101

In a Word is written by Lauren Yee. It is directed by Tyne Rafaeli, produced by Lesser America.

The production team includes Oona Curley (Scenic and Lighting Design), Andrea Hood (Costumes), Stowe Nelson (Sound Design).

The cast is Jose Joaquin Perez, Justin Mark and Laura Ramadei. Photo: Hunter Canning