Bobby Darin's "Sunday in New York" has been running through my head for the past week since seeing Richard Greenberg's "The Well-Appointed Room" at Steppenwolf Theatre. The play, not so much.
Like "Three Days of Rain" the new Greenberg play has two acts with common themes separated in time in this case, the same apartment before and after the World Trade Center attacks. The first act presents a glib playwright oblivious to the present, and a whip-smart partner weary of his living in the past. Tension in the second act is between the apartment's next owners, a husband living in the moment and a wife looking years ahead.
There's room for a grand statement about the course of human events in all this, but "The Well-Appointed Room" keeps to confined quarters. The Darin swinger provides one of many throwaway first-act lines in what would seem like a 1930s romantic-comedy pairing gone wrong that is, if the couple presented at least a fading spark of attraction. The half-hour is malnourished despite the onstage preparation of multiple omlets. By cracking a few more eggs the playwright could have brought this couple at least a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" edge, and introduced ideas to inform the second act.
The post-9/11 world is fraught with humanity, but the new tenants hash over much of the same turf Greenberg covered in "The Velvet Hour." Steppenwolf usually acts the hell out of a bad script, but the four actors come off unusually flat with this little to work with.
A quartet on the upstairs stage brings more empathy, and more of the sweep of calamity, to Frank Galati's economical but rich adaptation of Haruki Murakami's "After the Quake" short stories.