Too Many Issues to Count In The Problem

MiMi Yeh

The Black Box performances are back. Kicking off this semester’s set of one-act plays, held weekly at The Harbor Art Gallery, is A.R. Gurney, Jr.’s The Problem, directed by Eileen Rooney and starring Kate Plato (The Husband) and Danielle Brennan (The Wife).

It starts out innocently enough. Picture the absent-minded, eccentric professor reading a book (The Normals) and preparing for his night class, feet up, and resting in an easy chair until his wife taps him on the shoulder. He jumps when he notices her stomach – she’s pregnant. “I’ve been hiding it by wearing loose dresses, granny gowns, etc…” Of course, there’s a little catch: they haven’t had sex in five years.

The Husband laughs each time they have sex. It makes the Wife feel humiliated, she says. He laughs, she whimpers, and he doesn’t notice. The act of lovemaking, to him, is hilarious, the very ridiculousness of the positions and the noises. It’s an altogether extremely unpleasant experience.

So, now the Husband knows that it’s not his. However, it’s not a problem for him. The child can have his name and they’ll raise it as his own. There’s another hitch. The baby may not be full-blooded white. “Mulatto,” says the Wife. Apparently, that is the problem. “That certainly puts a different complexion on things. That’s a horse of a different color,” says the shell-shocked Husband.

Yet, it doesn’t stop there. The Wife details the passionate trysts that happen between her and her lover each time the Husband leaves to teach his evening class. However, the Husband has a few confessions of his own. He doesn’t teach an evening class. Instead, he sneaks around the entrance to the cellar and dresses up as an African American man, using makeup, and pretends to be his wife’s paramour.

The absurdity doesn’t end there. The Wife decides to take lovers of all different colors and ethnicities, claiming that she is doing it to expiate their guilt for being of a somewhat more affluent social class. The punch line: it’s not their child but a child of “social injustice.”

The absurdity culminates with The Husband confessing that he doesn’t see the need to keep it. The Wife’s jaw drops and asks, “What do you mean?” The Husband responds to the effect that she’s not even pregnant and punches her in the stomach to prove a point. The balloon explodes and scene ends with an agreement that they will live happily ever after in the mutually pathological paradise.

Chock full of hilarity, the actresses are both to be commended for the humor placed within every gesture. Although it drags in some parts because the plot becomes mired in its own twists and turns, Plato and Brennan infuse The Problem with the essential insanity and energy integral for keeping an audience’s interest. I didn’t stop laughing and neither did most of the other members of the crowd.

The Black Box plays will be put on every Thursday at 7PM in the Harbor Art Gallery.