“It feels like the universe is trying to tell me something,” says the central character, Vera, in “Struck,” a new play that is currently at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Vera is a New Yorker who has just been struck by a bicycle on the street; she’s bruised, and shaken, but her injuries are not life-threatening.
Vera has a feeling, though, that the incident may be life-changing in some way, particularly since she feels a strong connection to the young student who hit her, and stops by her apartment later to offer his sympathy.
The “accident” does turn out to be more than just an accident, but not in the way that Susan (play by Susan Maris) expects. And that’s the best thing about this world premiere play.
This “serious comedy about a (possibly) cosmic event,” as it’s described in its program, explores a topic — fate — that doesn’t figure into many modern plays. Does Vera’s feeling that the universe is trying to tell her something result from some kind of boredom, or wishful thinking? When things turn bad for her, does that mean she is just a fool? And when things, later on, work out — almost magically — for the best, does this mean that she was right all along? Or just lucky?
And doesn’t all of it reinforce the notion that even if fate exists, it’s kind of silly for mere humans to try to figure it out, as it’s happening?
Playwright Sandy Rustin and director Don Stephenson wisely leave enough room for audience members to come to their own conclusions, while also touching on other themes involving the subjects of family and religion, and building to an effective, life-affirming ending. Susan’s husband Nate (Adam Bradley) provides some much needed grounding, through his skepticism, but I thought the character of the neighbor, Vicky (Jenny Bacon), was excessively wacky to really fit in, in a play that is essentially realistic.
Ben Puvalowski is fine as the student, James, who dominates the play’s pivotal scene, as is Matthew Shepard as a character whom I can’t say anything about without revealing the second of the play’s two major twists — twists that don’t just provide a jolt of excitement, as most twists to, but that also ultimately give the play much of its meaning.
“Struck” will be at the New Jersey Repertory Company through July 31.