Mark Charney’s 37 Stones centers around a character named, well, Mark (Michael Skinner), who in 44 years of life has suffered the blinding pain of 37 kidney stones. The psychosexual damage such a state of affairs can inflict, especially if it’s compounded by the presence of an overbearing and manipulative mother, is the play’s subject. “I have a love/hate relationship with my dick,” Mark says.
In fact, Mark has a love/hate relationship with just about everything in his life, which is the show’s problem. His ambivalence toward his mystifyingly patient girlfriend (Sarah Melinda) is nothing compared to the conflicted feelings he harbors toward his mother (Jane E. Petkofsky)Ôªø, a faded Southern dame who’s grown desperately dependent on her son.
There’s a difference between drama grounded in autobiography and drama grounded in the feelings journal. At times 37 Stones feels like it belongs to the theater-as-therapy school, and certain scenes feel not so much drawn from life as photocopied from it.
The many exchanges between Mark and his mother have the same general shape, so we don’t learn much as the evening progresses. This has an interesting cumulative effect—it robs the proceedings of dramatic momentum, but it lends them a kind of close, familial intimacy.
It’s uncomfortable, but I think intentionally so; director Richard Washer’s staging succeeds in making the audience feel the emotional claustrophobia Mark’s mother inspires in him. You’ll just wish he could have accomplished this with a bit more variation in tone.
It does serve to make you look forward to the moments when the mood is lightened by the sardonic presence of Mark’s urologist brother (Ray Ficca) and by the downright haaaaaateful Aunt Fanny Ôªø(Caren Anton), a character written as a cartoon who’s enjoyably hiss-worthy.