Stitching Theater Review – Dirty, Gritty Human Love

Anthony Neilson’s controversial play “ Stitching” came to Hollywood’s Lillian Theater this March 6th. Starring Meital Dohan ( Showtime’s Weeds) and John Ventimiglia ( HBO’s The Sopranos), “ Stitching” proved to be a rather intimate and shocking experience for the audience seated in the quaint theatre that night.  

Loud, abrasive, relentless and disturbing are just a few of the words that fit this raucous production, yet somehow through all of that it was also quietly moving and highly personal. Using a horridly dysfunctional and oddly perverse couple as the centerpiece of his play, Neilson reaches for hidden truths about human nature through a rather extreme case study.

Meet Abby: a young, attractive girl who is internally grappling with issues of memory, love, sexuality, and even God. Now watch Abby with Stu: an obstinate, unhappy drunkard with very strange argument methodology and unsettling sexual desires. Put Abby and Stu together in a small, boxy apartment and watch them scream, scratch, kiss, cry, and scream again for about 70 minutes and there you have the gist of Anthony Neilson’s “Stitching”.

The play opens with Abby and Stu discussing Abby’s unwanted pregnancy. Their vicious and childlike fighting is initially comical, using language so crass that it could make a group of sailors look like church boys, then through the course of several different non-chronological scenes, the audience discovers just how twisted Abby and Stu’s love relationship is. Fighting about nearly everything, the couple eventually attempts a non-committal sex game in which Abby pretends to be a prostitute for Stu, using the monetary gain to help pay her way through college. This game, however, becomes increasingly violent, climaxing in a hair pulling, hand biting, and black and blue wrestling match/sex scene. Only through the increasing aggression and violence in their game is the couple able to realize that they are completely unable to put their actual love for each other behind them.

Abby (Meital Dohan) and Stu (John Ventimiglia) violently embrace

The shock value of the play goes far beyond just the physical aggression. Throw in disrespect for holocaust victims and graphic references to masochistic sexual acts and you’ll begin to see some of the controversy that got the play banned from Malta. However unnecessary as the banning was, the play’s reliance on shock value for its audience’s attention reads like yellow journalism.

Abby and Stu working through their chaotic relationship

As wearing as the ceaseless screaming and fighting can be, Neilson still manages to save a truly disturbing surprise-ending that will haunt the viewers for quite some time, even after they leave the theater. Despite the melodrama, Stitching was brutally telling of the pain, aggression and undeniable necessity of human love. Stitching speaks to such big issues as human loss, dangerous co-dependence, and the weird paradoxical truths of love that can only really be captured through something as thoughtfully artful as Neilson’s playwriting. The biggest danger for the audience is to get to become too taken aback by the shock factors and surface level screaming to miss the deeper issues involved.

Both Meital Dohan and John Ventimiglia delivered superb performances. Neilson’s script demands a lot from both characters, and they were able to deliver it under the guidance of Timothy Haskell’s directing. The set designer, Garin Marsch, did an excellent job in designing an ordinary apartment that also conveyed the prison like trappings of Abby and Stu’s relationship. The music composed by Daron Murphy was powerfully emotive and reflective of the painful strain that both characters were undergoing.

All in all, Stitching is worth your time. Sure, it’s loud, abrasive, relentless and disturbing, but so is life, and so are relationships and just maybe that’s the point of Neilson’s pointedly uncomfortable play. 

For more information on Stitching click here

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