516 (five sixteen)
nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 15, 2007
If you want to see what a top-notch company can create together, I have four words for you: Go see this production. The script is solid and polished, if not air-tight. The acting is snappy and genuine; a real lesson in back-to-basics talking and responding that is utterly engrossing. The directing is smart and so subtle that it's nearly invisible; an effect only achieved by an experienced craftsman. And the design is streamlined and unobtrusive, allowing the actors to get down to business and stay there for the duration of the short two-hour run time.
The seemingly simple plot is full of turns, none of which I will spoil. Here's the basic setup: Media studies major Sigurd is too busy with his thesis to actually write any of the myriad papers assigned by his professor Martie, so he employs the services of a professional ghostwriter, Annalee, a young dropout who has more than enough brains to earn several degrees many times over, but doesn't have the cash to pay for a degree. Who's using who? And why? That's all I'm going to say.
Katharine Clark Gray's crackerjack script is captivating, even when she diffuses some of its focus. The first act is a whirlwind, text and plot that pit the characters against each other with undeniably entertaining and provocative results. But in the second act, the changing characters pull away from each other, redefining each other and themselves. They feel more isolated than they were, an effect caused by how the plot takes a real turn. I've got opinions about what the playwright is after and could go on about whether she realized her intentions, but frankly that's not so important. What is important is that I was engaged by the work, enough to spend the post-show dinner puzzling and exploring the implications and meanings of what happened in that (mostly) empty space.
Director Todd Parmley clearly understands and loves the characters. His great contribution to the production is best revealed by his wonderful cast, who, though talented in their own right, Parmley unifies into a strong ensemble, eliciting complimentary qualities and rhythms that create an intellectually and physically robust world for the play to inhabit. Subtle indeed, and all the more appreciated.
However good a script is, however gifted the director, both are far less without skilled actors. Luckily for Gray and Parmley, and most of all the audience, the actors in 516 are plenty skilled. I'm happy to report that there are no standout performances. That would diminish the work of the others and, frankly, there's no weak cog in the machine. Kristina Valada-Viars is savvy, sassy, and sharp as Annalee, the keen ghostwriter (who prefers to be called an "assistant"). Ryan Tresser effortlessly turns from irritating to heartfelt and is always compelling as Sigurd, the equally smart if not so savvy film major (don't dare call them "movies"). And Angela Vitale is at once graceful and cutthroat as Matie, the eager-to-break-the-rules-to-teach-a-lesson (even if the lesson is simply "don't fuck with me") professor.
516 (five sixteen) takes on many subjects: education, communication, exploitation, manipulation, isolation, to name a few. All of them are worth your attention. Go see this production.