EATFest - Spring 2009
nytheatre.com review by Various Reviewers
February 26, 2009
Series A (Reviewed by Martin Denton)
Three short original plays comprise this evening within the Spring 2009 EATFest. The opener is Better Dresses, a funny but melancholy tale by Eugenia Woods set in the eponymous department of a swanky New York department store. Marcel, an opinionated couturier who takes his fashion very seriously, presides over this section, and he instills fear or hope in his customers as he sees fit. In this slice-of-life play, Marcel encounters one woman whom he wants to free from her high-pressure yuppie prison and another whom he helps to liberate from her awkward ugly duckling repression. A third customer, who knows who she is and has the means to match, assists in this latter pursuit. Better Dresses is a sweet play, though laden perhaps with too many inside fashion references for a layperson like myself to fully comprehend; it features a fun central performance by Jerry Marsini as Marcel (he gives us a layered, wistful take on this fellow) and three distinct characterizations by Sarah Miriam Aziz, Chelsea Rodriguez, and Jacquelyn Poplar as the ladies he takes care of. Co-directors Ron Bopst and Ryan Hilliard move the piece along briskly. A rack full of chic dresses, presumably provided by costume designer Meredith Neal, serves the play neatly.
Alex Broun's Gift of the Gun comes next. It's about an encounter between an older man and a handsome young male escort ("rent boy" is what he's called in the program). Though Tim Seib gives a very appealing performance as William (the escort), this play is quite unsatisfying. It turns on a single twist that is easily guessed within the first few moments (and the unfortunate title gives far too much away). And it draws on flimsy stereotypes: that a rich old man is necessarily lonely and willing to hire an escort, and even more troublingly that an escort is necessarily unhappy in his work and easily manipulated by others.
The final play of Series A is Burying Mom by Matt Fotis. It's about an immature but likeable young man in his early 30s named Paul Morgan who is having trouble letting go of his mother—specifically, to her ashes, which he has been holding onto for several years. The play is set up as a series of vignettes in which Paul deals with a different woman/mother figure as he tries to navigate toward some kind of self-actualization. Some of the writing is funny and some is insightful. It felt to me like there was at least one scene too many in this play. I particularly enjoyed Paul's encounter with a waitress at a restaurant near a Wisconsin campground (the waitress is played with great humor and acuity by Deb Armelino). Director Deb Guston seemed to have trouble sustaining the play's comic and often absurd tone, however; in a scene where Paul has an appointment with his former high school guidance counselor, for example, opportunities for zany comedy seemed to be missed at every turn. Still, this is an intriguing bit of writing that probably deserves further development.
Production values, as is the norm for EATFest, are all top-notch. Tim McMath provides deft and evocative scenery, and Jennifer Granrud's lighting design and sound design by Ned Thorne are similarly simpatico.
Series B (Reviewed by Leslie Bramm)
The evening begins with Steven Korbar's Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now. A man known only as HE (Dan Barnhill) and a woman called simply SHE (Elizabeth A. Bell) play a sexual game of cat and mouse, or in this case priest and whore, as they attempt to seduce the socks off each other. Barnhill and Bell are delightful as the would-be lovers and they win us over immediately. Bell is sensual and highly seductive. Her face expresses a comic mobility that reminds one of a young Lucille Ball. Barnhill is appropriately goofy and uses his body well as the novice seducer. In what comes across as more of a long skit, Vivian Meisner's directing gets the job done.
This is followed by Ted LoRusso's Moon Night. This is the story of two men, two old friends who share a rocky romantic history. One has come home to die, while the other never left home to begin with. The two men see each other after many years and their attraction is still palpable. They express it in a series of grunts and threats that culminates in a fierce game of racquetball. Jenny Holzer has a Truism that goes, "Men invent intricate rituals that allow them to touch one another." Turner (Bernard Burlew) and Maddock (Chuck Saculla) give intense and emotionally real portraits of two men trying to do just that. The direction by Ian Streicher (assisted by Ellys R. Abrams) keeps the staccato structure of the play flowing and graceful. My only objection is the gratuitous use of nudity. I'm no prude when it comes to naked people on stage, but having the actors change clothes, albeit logical to a dressing room scene, seems designed to titillate more than anything else. In their climatic showdown, the naked actors get close to body-on-body contact. It seemed uncomfortable to me and the staging became awkward. Still, this sad story is a poignant reminder of the value of true friendship and the fragility of the male ego.
Next comes The Five Worst Words by Jason Matthews. Like the first piece of the evening, this is a skit with an O. Henry ending, so I don't want to give too much away. Terry (Tommy Day Carey) is breaking up with Pat (Matt Boethin), or is he??? Carey and Boethin handle the fast-paced give-and-take very well. Both of these young actors have control over the material and know just how to hit the nuances. Dan Dinero's directing keeps the play moving at a nice clip.
The final offering of the evening is Jon Spano's Family Comes First. This is a naughty romp where, in order to save the family inheritance, someone must have sex with the dying, but still virginal, grandmother. Yes, you read that correctly, our theatrical motif here is "popping grandma's cherry." Spano has a sharp wit and lampoons everything from religion to sexuality to race, and of course everybody's favorite, incest. All is relative in this quirky family comedy. Dinero also directs this piece showing his flair for the comic and absurd. The strength of the piece however, is in the fine ensemble performance. Lawrence M. Bullock, J. Stephen Brantley, Blake Walton, Adam Schneider, Vinnie Costa, and Dusty Alvarado make the text pop with disturbing innuendo. They are well-rehearsed and this shows through in their playfulness.
Emerging Artists Theatre is a large collective of playwrights, directors, actors, and designers. Led with care and passion by artistic director Paul Adams, these EATFests remind us of just how much talent lives there.