Review cover
by Jan Ewing
Hi Drama/October 25, 2019



October 25, 2019



Tom Block’s Duck explores the arbitrary nature of life and death. Two damaged people meet on a park bench; Abbie, suffering from a failed relationship; and Duck, so consumed by guilt over something as yet undisclosed that he can no longer speak. At first, they can’t communicate. Abbie asks to sit.  Duck quacks. She asks what’s wrong. Duck quacks. But, Abbie is empathetic.  She feels his pain and perseveres until a homeless person named Crumb wanders into the park.

For reasons soon made clear, Duck can speak to Crumb, which allows for, and initiates a kleidoscope of vivid timeshifts detailing two intermingled threads in Duck’s life. In one, death is determined by a single number, in the other, by two signatures on a piece of paper.  When Duck fully realizes how meaningless these rationalizations are, how thoughtlessly he accepted and participated in them, and how pointless and painful they turned out to be, he is stunned into existential silence. He can no longer speak, only quack.


Director Katrin Hilbe and her cast make excellent use of the IRT theater. Jefferson Ridenour’s dramatic, handpainted, blue & white draperies delineate the space, while adding a vaguely chaotic dystopia that’s fully in tune with Duck’s mindset. Clever sound and lighting effects allow the action to proceed seamlessly, with a special mention for Cathy Small, who did the costumes. Three actors (see above) played five parts, and the action never flagged as they moved in and out of their costumes. In a play that doesn’t stop, that’s a considerable achievement. Kudos to Ms. Small and her crew. 

As Duck, Michael Sean Cirelli’s quacking was as carefully considered as his words. It takes ability to quack with meaning, and Mr. Cirelli succeeds quite well. Not to suggest that there is anything comic or supercilious in his work. Duck is a thoroughly serious character, and he was portrayed with genuine sympathy and understanding. One really cared about Duck’s story. 

Kellye Rowland is thoroughly engaging as Abbie. She has a sense of humor that illuminates what she does. It shines right through her eyes. Attractive and engaging when she meets Duck in the park, she’s a pleasure to watch as she morphs through the other two women in Duck’s life — his mother and his wife — a very subtle plot device when you think about it. As Crumb, Tom Paolino is strong and dominating, for a reason I don’t want to give away here. Crumb has lost himself as well, and helplessly defends his own self-destruction as he spirals downward.

In some ways, the other characters in the play are less integrated. That’s not to say that the actors didn’t all do fine jobs. Mark Peters as Duck’s father and the priest whom Duck briefly thought might help him with his moral dilemma, was the most sympathetically developed of the three. Alternately warm and then utterly unable to comprehend reality, he switched attributes with skill. Frates, more or less a news cypher well played by Paula Rossman, is a newspaper columnist interviewing Duck before he receives an award as a national hero. Her inability to understand his objections helps drive him into madness. Annemarie Hagenaars did a fine job as the Doctor and Weigert, but she wasn’t asked to do much beyond providing characters for the plot. 


More than once in the last three years, I’ve been stunned into silence by the rabid stupidity coming out of Washington. “Quack! Quack! Quack!” says Duck-1. “Quack! Quack! Quack!” Moscow-1 echos back. The White House and Senate might as WELL be quacking, considering the total lack of substance and intelligence coming out of them (I’ve frequently wondered what William F. Buckley would be saying about these political cretins). Duck made me think anew about these important things, from a slightly different point of view. That’s what good theater is supposed to do, make you think, and I’m happy to say that this small, intelligent play does it very well. HAPPY FACE