Touch, Phoenix Theatre, at Victory Gardens Theater. The story–shy, sweet Kyle meets Zoe, the love of his life, then loses her to random tragedy–is genuinely heartbreaking. Playwright Toni Press-Coffman is sensitive, empathetic, sometimes lyrically insightful. And this kind of drama is meant to be arduous, at least emotionally. But a host of structural difficulties makes Touch more tiring than cathartic, a desensitizing marathon of static anguish.
One problem is the flashback-driven first-person narration, which holds little in reserve but the secrets of how Zoe disappears and how Kyle is going to get over it. Another is that Zoe never appears onstage, a decision that emphasizes her survivors’ sense of loss but significantly hinders any identification with the character. Press-Coffman also employs the hooker-as-therapist device, which just goes to show that romanticized stereotypes never die, and ascribes some bizarrely implausible behavior to a couple of villains. All this tends to distance the audience, fatal for a play trading on compassionate response.
Director Bryan Fonseca makes the script as dynamic as possible, and the sophisticated minimalism of the sound and lighting adds to the production’s overall professionalism. Supporting players Kelli Walker, Michael Shelton, and Beverly Roche offer strong, assured work despite clunky-to-cutesy dialogue. But as Kyle, Aaron Roman Weiner compounds the script’s monotony with a two-note performance divided between manic enthusiasm and manic despair; when his best friend threatens to sedate him at one point, you kind of wish he would.