The Only Friends We Have
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
August 5, 2009
The lights come up. I stare blankly at what appear to be three woodland creatures: big eyes, wild features, and a sort of sweetness that can only be placed onto small animals. They sit, silently, on a large board balanced on two beat-up trash cans. They are Norman, Jonathan, and Claudia. This trio makes up the cast of The Only Friends We Have, Under the Table's newest undertaking, and as I watched them during those first few moments I did exactly what they intended me to do. I laughed.
Most appropriately located at the HERE Arts Center, this ensemble-created piece of hilarity is unlike anything I've ever seen. Set to wonderfully bizarre, yet somehow subtle, original music by AcHT(eN), the play gives us three original characters who are hypnotic in their own oddness and somehow this oddness feels incredibly normal. Each is swathed in ill-fitting clothes and has off-putting features. Jonathan is played by Under the Table's artistic director, Matt Chapman. He has lovely straight white teeth, a massive head wound, and a serious itching problem. Norman is played by Josh Matthews. He is elfin in his features, not unlike the"brownies" from the film Willow. He makes "bad choices" and is hopelessly inept at improv and hopelessly in love with Claudia. Claudia is played by Sarah Petersiel. She is an eccentric Olive Oyl doll...with a pencil-thin mustache. She is beautiful in her strangeness and she does not love Norman. Each actor is smart and has a beautiful sense of comedy that is honest, smart, and perfectly timed. They are all trained in clowning techniques and it complements the piece with gusto. Through slapstick and a variety of physical comedy we are taken on a one-hour comedy ride. I can honestly say I have never seen an actress more convincingly stuck in a filthy garbage can.
The three friends lie, argue, berate, physically battle (with each piece of the simple yet perfectly designed set by Victoria Bradbury), perform for and comfort one another. It is a journey but this is not in a classic storytelling form. It is something more special, a slice of very odd life. This show is a parody of a truth I have recently come to recognize and embrace—how we treat the ones we love most like garbage because we know that no matter how weird we are, they aren't going anywhere and neither are we. Do yourself and favor and get out to HERE and see this group perform. Jonathan says it best: "Soon you will see with your eyes and your heart...and the eyes of your heart..." Both my eyes and heart will be on the lookout for whatever this Brooklyn-based group churns out next.