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In the Ebb

nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
August 15, 2012

In the Ebb, two one-act plays by Camilla Ammirati, begin with a torrent of beautiful words.  While the words are different, the sentiment is the same; they are the words which open many a play about nostalgia, about chances never taken and the fears of loss.

The first play, St. James in the Field of Stars, deals with a young woman Alicia running from pain by traveling through Europe and avoiding her mother.  The pain is deep, because we are told it is; the words we are told it with are gorgeous.  When a potential could be lover and longtime friend, invites her to Spain, she goes, driven by curiosity and a certain desire to see how things would turn out if they got together.  She happens to arrive precisely and almost too conveniently when Joel is going through a break up, which leads to them having a moment, which then leads to a revelation which leads her back home.

The second play, In the Ebb, find Russ and Emily moving into a new/old home given to them by Russ parents who may or may not be in the Mafia.   While deciding which color to paint the bedroom, we are given to understand that things have not been all right in there with our lovers. He gets upset that she wants to paint the bedroom red, which is the color of passion. It turns out that Emily does not want to face her fears until a creature, an apparition or even a figment of her imagination arrives at the scene and drives her to tell the truth and come face to face with her fears of loss.

As I left the theatre, I thought, “These plays were not for me, I even dared blame myself for being Latino and not really buying into plays about white people's problems.”  But, I’m a pretty avid theatre-goer, 95% of the theatre I see is about white characters, and yet I have loved many of those plays, and as I talked it out in my head I had a hard time imagining who these plays were for.

The words are certainly beautiful; writer Camilla Ammirati has a poetic soul, and an ability to paint beautiful visuals with language.   However, her characters lack intention, really deep set desires.  What do they want? What are they fighting for? Why are they languishing through life?  Maybe that’s the way they feel, but really, languid doesn’t make for very compelling theatre.

To be fair, it is not without its moments, mostly delivered by director Jessica Ammirati, who has a true talent for staging; set against a projection of waves on a beach, the play is calm, serene and contemplative, which to be honest can at times also be a bit of a bore.

There is one terrific scene, where Joel and Alicia lie on a field looking at the stars, while another character “Alicia of the present” walks us through her desires.  It is staged beautifully, and we get to see the growing desire of the Alicias, the sweet need of wanting something really badly.  It is the most active the play ever gets and I think it was written and staged beautifully. 

Ultimately however, the characters are too inactive; Alicia is running and suffering, Joel’s best dramatic moments happen off-stage, Emily’s dilemma is dealt in a theatrically typical way, and Russ is unaware and horny. Yes, we get a sense of the their inner desperation, but it all feels more like character outlines than fully fleshed-out vehicles for actors to sink their teeths into .

For the most part the performances are very good, and Jessica Ammirati has a well-honed visual eye, Camilla Ammirati has a way with words, and there are passages of great beauty that appear to connect the clichés.  But ultimately, I was not moved, I was not even particularly interested; I thought that it was all… well… just… nice enough.