nytheatre.com review by Various Reviewers
October 16, 2007
[Editor's Note: nytheatre.com reviewers Amy Lerner and Jo Ann Rosen each saw one of the three series offered in this EATfest. As you'll see below, their impressions are quite different.]
Series B - Reviewed by Jo Ann Rosen
A morsel can be as rewarding as a main course: slick enough to show that professionals prepared it, sufficient surprise to command attention, and just enough pleasure to keep one coming back for more. So goes an evening of six short plays produced by Emerging Artists Theatre. Loosely connected by the themes of attraction and attachment, EAT manages to pair playwrights who know their craft with directors who resist using a heavy hand. The cast responds to both beautifully and the results are thoroughly enjoyable.
The evening starts with a strong performance by Amy Bizjak and Bryan Kaplan in a tete-a-tete called Clothes Encounter, by David Almeida and Stephen J. Miller. Director Nick Micozzi pushes the envelope by having the cast appear in the buff. Actually only Kaplan's excellent backside is revealed briefly in the beginning as the scene unwinds behind a large sunning umbrella. But the illusion is complete when Bizjak covers her ample torso with a magazine as her character blusters and blushes her way through this first romantic meeting that is both convincing and funny. Bizjak commands an entire spectrum of self-conscious and awkward behavior. On the second date, the characters are eager and fully dressed. But as in all drama, there are reversals. Never rushed, the actors examine the emotional situation fully, bringing the play to a poignant conclusion.
Patrick Gabridge stretches the sexual metaphor in his play Den of Iniquity. And director Ian Streicher plays it up unabashedly. While the material may not be entirely new, it is done well. Jess Phillips delivers the obvious innuendos as if her character has a stake in the results. She plays on the timorous Gerald, played with appropriate meekness by William Reinking, who looks like he's hiding more than sexual desire—which he is. His innocent vice is discovered when his wife Maggie, played by Andrea Alton, bursts into the room and confronts him. A last minute curiosity sucks her back into the room where she subsequently adopts the vice as her own.
Attraction in the workplace is nothing new. The lovely part about Layout, by Richard Ploetz, is the electricity that travels between Laura Dillman and Nick Ruggeri, who play two colleagues testing the waters as they work late into the night completing design layouts for an ad campaign. They create the layouts the old fashioned way—by hand (no computers in sight)—and this contributes to the play's strength, allowing electricity to spark, settle, reignite, and inhabit these characters who have worked together for years. Dillman and Ruggeri display the subtleties of attraction and the necessary safe retreats needed for two people who plan on sharing an office for some time to come. Paul Adams directs with artful nuance.
Lucky Day, a play of coincidence and camp by Mark Lambeck, is predictable but fun. It opens with Whitney, a lovely blonde in satin pajamas, earnestly writing a suicide note as she sits on a chaise on the roof of an apartment building. She is interrupted by Sean, a gay man who breaks into "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow," his interpretation of depression. Both are lamenting their break-ups. Their antagonism turns to friendship when they realize they have broken up with the same man. Karen Stanion delivers plenty of frustration, but perhaps not enough desperation to convince that suicide is in the offing. Wayne Henry is best when he talks so fast he trips over his words. The play is directed by Jonathan Warman.
Unembalmed, by Joe Byers, delivers the one tragic play of the evening. Plywood, cut in the shape of a coffin, lies on the floor indicating the death of a young man. Apparently, he has ridden his motorcycle into another vehicle, and now his mother is left to mourn. Jacqueline Sydney as Mrs. Dockery moves from lost confusion to emotional restraint and then to release as she tries to make sense of her loss. Interspersed with her monologue is one by Kamran Khan, as the embalmer, who delivers a cool, clinical account of the embalming process: disinfection, restoration, preservation. The two monologues meet and bounce off each other in a skillful way when the driver of the other vehicle shows up. As the driver, Tom Seib gives us a close-up of how random tragedy can be. The structure keeps this piece interesting, and Carter Inskeep's direction prevents any maudlin tendencies.
Attraction comes in different suits, and in Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?, by Carol Mullen, it arrives in the form of Jeff Auer, a large presence dressed in a black ensemble who fills the whole doorway. He is James, the hired killer, come to collect on a lost bet that Adam, played by Desmond Dutcher, cannot repay because of a foolish gamble on American Idol. Auer brings cool detachment to his character's job, making Dutcher's Adam sweat convincing bullets about how he's going to get out of this one. Of course, Adam finds a way to connect with James. Lest you think this premise too silly to hold your concentration, the huge handgun flaunted on stage corrects that quickly. Under the steady direction of Ned Thorne, I paid rapt attention until the gun was put to rest.
Emerging Artists Theatre has done it again. They have presented six short morsels of great variety that prove as satisfying as many full-lengths. Fortunately, this is Series B, the second of three, allowing anyone to go back to see more in Series A or C.
Series A - Reviewed by Amy Lerner
In Series A of its short play festival, the Emerging Artists Theatre has a promising lineup of plays with compelling titles and accomplished actors. Unfortunately, the night feels more like cliché sketch comedy interwoven with small bits of drama, and moments of promising stage work.
The night opens with The List, by Kristyn Leigh Robinson, about a wife who decides to cheat on her husband with Ben Stiller, based on a list they made of celebrities who they'd want to sleep with. The play is as much a sitcom as it sounds, but unfortunately misses several of its laughs. The script is fairly clever, but is a bit clichéd. Maya Rosewood is appealing as Jenny, but Scott Katzman doesn't display enough passion as her sports-obsessed husband.
This is followed by the dramatic highlight of the evening, Jessamyn Fiore's Water and Discarded Hair, which explores the relationship between ex-lovers revolving around a haircut. The piece is original, well-written, and features a luminous, if a bit too fidgety, performance by Tracee Chimo as the female component of the relationship.
Next is National Treasure, a play by Jon Spano that takes place at a memorial service. It begins as a comedy with Valerie David in a hilarious turn as a gregarious stranger. Marc Garber does a terrific job with his monologue towards the end of the play.
This is followed by the audience favorite of the evening, Tom Cruise, Get Off the Couch by Kevin Brofsky. This play is very gimmicky, about two men on a date. The problem? One of the men is obsessed with Tom Cruise, to the point that he has named his dog after the actor, and uses themes from his movies for makeout sessions. The issue with the play is that it relies almost completely on shtick, with actor Jason O'Connell portraying the dog, who continually interrupts the date, a concept that, to me, was completely unfunny.
Next is Emily Breathes, a political play dealing with gay rights and the Catholic Church. It is a huge topic to cover in such a short period of time, and playwright Matt Cassarino is not specific enough about his characters, making it unclear at times what the characters are referring to.
The final play of the evening is Astray, another sketch comedy-like play by Corey Rieger. This revolves around a crazy woman who latches onto unsuspecting strangers and practically forces them to take her into their home. Geany Masai has terrific delivery and is very funny as the crazy woman; William Reinking and Ron Bopst as her new and old victims are also excellent in their respective roles. The premise felt too absurd to be completely enjoyable, but the play does come to a fun conclusion.
All in all, I was disappointed in the evening that Emerging Artists Theatre had to offer. Most of the performances, minus the few standouts mentioned above, barely dig beneath the surface of their characters. The plays seem closer to improv and sketch comedy seen at venues like Upright Citizens Brigade rather than fully developed plays. Then again, the audience around me was thoroughly entertained, laughing loudly especially at Astray and the Tom Cruise piece. I, however, was not so amused.