This blog is a great place to make friends. I don’t mean those faces in the thumbnail photos on your Facebook list, either. Basketfriends are people who know stuff about you, make you dinner — or invite you and your husband to see an actor you love in his new play.
Last weekend, the husband (White T Jim B), our Basketpals Neil and Kathy (you know Neil as Frank Bullitt), and I saw Vincent Kartheiser in The Death of the Novel, at San Jose Repertory Theatre. The guys did a little recon before the performance, and Kathy and I had the great luck to meet Vincent and the cast; more on that later.
The Death of the Novel (by Jonathan Marc Feldman, with imaginative set design by John Iacovelli) is the story of a young writer in present-day New York City. A proud, self-professed “depressed agoraphobic”, novelist Sebastian Justice (Vincent Kartheiser) found success with his first book and is cheerfully spending his advance for the second. One of the conditions for keeping that advance: regular treatment with a psychologist (Amy Pietz), who makes house calls. Sebastian uses her visits to vent about the world he’s left behind.
An equal-opportunity mocker, Sebastian derides everyone from his fans to his best friend, “do-gooder” and serial womanizer Philip (Patrick Kelly Jones). He’s dismissive and cynical, but his audience is small: just friend, shrink, and call girl (Zarah Mahler). He hasn’t gone outside in years, but in a city where everything he needs is delivered to his door, why change?
When Philip brings his latest conquest, Sheba (Vaishnavi Sharma), to dinner at Sebastian’s place, the change appears.
In this story about stories — why we need them, how they live and die — Sebastian and Sheba meet each other first as narratives. She’s the girl who’s in love with his book; he’s the cynic who doubts her backstory right away. But he falls for her, and as he does, we learn more about him. Even in love, he’s stuck: more a child than a man. When Sheba joins him in the blanket fort he’s made of his life, we sense it won’t end well.
Sebastian and Sheba’s story is less a romance than a tale of interlocking delusions. She has as much to hide from as he does, and the two begin a complicated dance of pretense and pleasure. Sometimes it’s an actual dance, and Kartheiser’s physicality is a thrill to watch. If Sebastian were not living in a cage, Vincent Kartheiser could probably make him fly.
At its best, The Death of the Novel shows how far we’ll go to protect ourselves from the realities of our lives. It deals nicely with the selves we build and hide in, online and in real life: as Sheba, Sharma is an aristocratic beauty whose accent and affections slide around like the scarf she wears on a date. (The play alludes to Rear Window; Sheba is a sly Lisa to Kartheiser’s ailing Jeff.)
The playwright takes on a bit too much. Human-rights violations in the Middle East deserve their own play; here, they distract us from the play’s more compelling themes of identity and community. Other topics fit better. Sebastian’s first mention of the 9/11 attacks is our first clue to what haunts him; eleven years later, that subject has lost none of its power to chill a room.
From the close-knit cast of five, though, it’s all heat and light. They mesh beautifully: in a story that has no villains, that’s key. Offstage, their affection for each other is clear. The whole cast was outside with Vincent when Kathy and I approached.
We introduced ourselves, mentioned Basket of Kisses, and Vincent’s eyes lit up. It was my Basket of Kisses Eureka Moment: Oh my God. The people we write about actually read us. (Yes, it’s one small step for the Basket, but a giant leap for this particular Basketcase.)
Social media sites aren’t really known as warm, orderly places, but I like to think we’re different here. Neil and Kathy, hosts for our evening at SJ Rep, are typical of so many of you: brilliant, funny, and so generous they hosted this year’s finale party at their home. I’ve always thought that what we do on the Basket is special. But when Vincent Kartheiser smiled at our mention of this blog, I knew that was true.
If you want to see Vincent and company on stage for yourselves, The Death of the Novel is still in performance in San Jose this weekend. I highly recommend it.