“Our Shrinking, Shrinking World”, or better living through therapy

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Kaileela Hobby and Kevin O'Rourke sitting next to each other
Kaileela Hobby and Kevin O'Rourke. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography.

NJ rep show builds to a verbally vivid, natural life

Jeff Rubino and Molly Carden sitting at a table having cocktails
Jeff Rubino and Molly Carden. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography.

I don’t know if it’s something in the Jersey Shore water, or just serendipity, but down in Long Branch is the New Jersey Repertory Company, and they produce play after play after play of merit and interest and just plain old theatrical magic. They’ve done it again, with their newest play, Our Shrinking, Shrinking World by Richard Dresser, directed by Joe Cacaci.

Our Shrinking, Shrinking World takes place in a dreary Everytown where it always seems to be raining. Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist (Kevin O”Rourke) is the town psychologist, and we first meet him during a therapy session with ex-cop Teddy Bucko (Jeff Rubino). Teddy’s reinstatement on the force depends on him successfully completing therapy. Dr. Lyman sees this as a long-term mission, while Teddy’s live-in girlfriend, Katrina Prendergast (Molly Carden) presses for more concrete results in less time.

Undermining Dr. Lyman’s confidence is the recent arrival of another psychologist, Dr. Michael Carver (K. Hobby). The tug-of-war between Lyman and Carver leads to Teddy and Katrina expressing long-hidden truths to each other — and uncomfortable revelations about the doctors’ own lives.

Playwright Dresser has written a play that surprises you at every turn. He turns cliches on their head to mine humor from events that border on the absurd while seriously addressing the need to find and hold on to hope in an ever-depressing world. His script pits world-weary cynicism against guarded optimism without having either seem like puerile attitudes. His characters come to learn that only through open communication can any of them find the redemption they all, to one degree or another, seek.

Kaileela Hobby and Molly Carden on stage talking to each other
Kaileela Hobby and Molly Carden. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography.

Joe Cacaci’s solid direction polishes the play and its characters, creating a unified world that captures the audience’s attention. In this he is aided by his highly skilled cast. O’Rourke’s doctor is self-centered and self-assured yet vulnerable and empathetic enough to offer the hope of recovery to his patients. Rubino’s Teddy and Carden’s Katrina, while having a bedrock love for each other, have their own inner demons forcing them to use non-communication and deception to attempt closer connection. And Hobby’s therapist, while offering recovery as a goal, has given in to the uselessness of fighting against the wrongs of the world, adopting a “live for today” philosophy to escape dealing with a perceived doomed future.

As usual, it is NJ Rep’s design team that manages to raise the bar on how creative one can be on what must be a tight budget. The two-level set, showing both doctor’s offices (using a subtle shift in furniture to differentiate them) and the local bar, is designed by Jessica Parks and lit by Jill Nagle, with Nick Simone’s sound design adding appropriate atmospheric effects. Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes, as always, visually reinforce the milieu of the characters and their town.

Our Shrinking, Shrinking World starts slow but builds to verbally vivid, natural life. It is a joy to experience and may lead some to consider their outlook on a world where new outrages occur with ever-increasing frequency. I strongly recommend you make the trip to Long Branch to see the New Jersey Repertory Company’s production of Richard Dresser’s flat-out funny Our Shrinking, Shrinking World.

Our Shrinking, Shrinking World is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre in Long Branch through May 27, 2023. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to njrep.org or call 732-229-3166.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.