Review of Birthday & Nobody
Crystal Skillman’s two-play collection is one of those lucky accidents for me; I picked it up in the Drama Bookshop, and, upon flipping through it, saw that it might contain a few good monologues. While these two plays do, in fact, include good monologues, they’re also just good plays.
The plays are sold together because they could be presented together or separately. Both take place in various locations in a bar- backroom, bathroom, bar, tables, etc. However, neither play relies on the other, and could be performed on their own.
In Birthday, Leila stumbles into the back room of the bar at which her co-worker’s birthday party is being held. Because she’s crying so hard, it takes her a second to realize that she’s not alone. Kyle, the owner of the bar, is listening to his music and it rather startled when Leila begins to pour out her life story to him: the lie from which she got her name, why she chose the beer she’s drinking (because she’s obsessed with farms, and guess what, once a horse bit her on the boob), how her dad made her play the guitar, how she had to buy an Easter egg piñata for the party, how she likes to write songs and once wrote one about a seagull flying in the snow, and how it’s her birthday today too and she’s twenty-nine but she hasn’t told anyone. Kyle listens patiently, compliments her singing, shows her pictures of his four year-old son as Leila decides not to tell him how horrific she thinks marriage is.
Of course, not everything is as great for Kyle as it seems. Though he owns what seems like a popular and well-off business, he’s not exactly happy. After all, he’s been hanging out in the back room for awhile, and tells Leila that his wife doesn’t know he’s there.
The two of them are well-suited for each other, at least at that moment, in that room, for that conversation. It’s nice to have someone there, and maybe better that they’re strangers. Which makes it even sweeter when Kyle lights a birthday candle for Leila and lets her make a wish for the birthday no one else knows about.
On the other side of the door, in the next play Nobody, six characters deliver a series of monologues. Kat, a proofreader, relives her best friend’s wedding and how it was never supposed to happen. Alex, a chef, is distraught over a package sent to him by his ex-girlfriend and reviews how horrible his life is without her. Kash masturbates in the bathroom and tells how he rode a bus that morning and saw himself in the crowd of elderly people sitting around him. Ilona, a waitress, confides to the audience her dashed acting dreams and her confusion that she’s not clinically depressed. Louise, a widow, is in the bar that her now-deceased husband once saw her enter in a dream before he had a heart attack. And Anna, a poet, finds herself unable to go to work because she’s a kind of sick she can’t put her finger on.
Both plays are poignant and provocative, written in a style that evokes Molly Hagan for its poetic nature and Jane Martin for its halting speech style:
She was sleeping.
Then a sound, like a whisper, sob.
She was shaking me.
Gently shaking me awake.
Asking if I…
The most basic of questions of what I had to give.
If I loved her.
As if after she heard that she would be changed in some way […]
I pretended to sleep, but I could heard her. I could hear her cry.
Which is funny because I didn’t hear her go.
Both plays give the reader a sense of desperation and claustrophobia, especially since the characters are so relatable. It’s almost uncomfortable to see yourself reflected in the characters, but somehow you want to keep reading, and that is the mark of two truly fantastic plays.
It’s so packed- it’s so full- no one can hear what you’re saying.
You’re like an ant.
There’s been all these birthday parties.
Everyone’s born in the spring I guess.
And just before we’re supposed to leave Greg takes me to the top, to the roof of the building.
The top of like a thousand floors.
We’d been there before.
I mean we’d go up there because at the front I have all the keys to everywhere and up there, it’s just like starting to stay lighter later and we can see the sun behind everything and it’s all shadows and that’s like what we are too, with each other.
I drank more than all of them.
And even though it seems like I’m letting go, it’s calculated. Me who tried to control everything, even planning in his mind where to have spontaneous sex when I get the chance.
And it gets so bad what I’m feeling.
Like something is wrong with me that no one can see.
Like when I’d look at my mom and know there was some reason she shouldn’t be left alone.
I decide to read.
And not poetry, actually sick of it.
I go through my books:
Philip K. Dick.
I’m obviously schizophrenic.
How could two girls who were never girls, never knew how to be happy, learn to be happy?