WORKS & PROCESS ROTUNDA PROJECT: DANIIL SIMKIN: FALLS THE SHADOW

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Combining technology with live performance is a tricky enterprise. The two elements can often cancel each other out, dividing the audience’s attention and failing to coalesce into a single vision. When handled with the right balance of innovation and restraint, however, projected images can blend seamlessly with traditional techniques to create a cohesive statement. Conceived by Daniil Simkin, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theater, and choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, FALLS THE SHADOW offers proof that 21 Century innovations can enhance, rather than overwhelm, classical expression.

The event is held in the central rotunda of Guggenheim, so that the museum’s iconic spiral ramp serves as both a stage set and a series of mezzanines from which to view the performance. Simkin is joined on stage by ABT colleague Cassandra Trenary, Ana Lopez of Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance company, and San Francisco-based dancer Brett Conway. Using infrared cameras, Dmitrij Simkin’s intricate projection designs are equipped to respond in real time to every nuance of the dancers’ movements. The effect, appropriately for the venue, is of a moving modernist painting. Media designer Arístides Job García Hernández meticulously builds specific worlds to match the musical tone of each piece. Flickering pools of light follow the performers bodies like the ion tails of comets. Concentric circles give way to geometric spirals and shifting coronas of color and texture. By contrast, the performers are clad in clean, metallic costumes created by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Though not quite as apocalyptic as the poem from which it derives its name (T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”), FALLS THE SHADOW does explore the themes of human energy’s destructive and creative potential. In the show’s most overtly allegorical piece, two strident figures hurl jets of black vapor at each other, eventually pulling others into the conflict and engulfing the world in ever-increasing pools of flame. A visual essay on the futility of war could easily come across as heavy-handed. But it works well here, thanks to the delicacy of movement and gradual build to a simultaneous crescendo of music and color. Most of the other segments take a more abstract approach to their depictions of the shadow world between dream and reality, effort and impact. Yet all the pieces are effective, in part because they manage to be as concise as they are kaleidoscopic. The entire concert weighs in at under an hour, long enough to fully exploit its palette of effects, but wisely concluding while before the audience’s sense of wonder has a chance to fade.

WORKS & PROCESS: THE ROTUNDA PROJECT continues with composer Nico Muhly on September 17, 2017 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, Between  88th &  89th Street. Tickets: 212 423 3575.

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SUMMER SHORTS 2017: Series B

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Of the three one acts that comprise Series B, the most confidently delivered is Chris Cragin-Day’s two-hander which probes the subject of women’s role in religion. Kim (Jennifer Ikeda), a successful professor and mother of young children, is dedicated to her egalitarian ideals as well as to her Christian faith. Cliff (Mark Boyett), with whom Kim has been friends since high school, belongs to the same church and has just been promoted to pastor. He’s eager to make a good impression, and Kim isn’t making it easy for him. She has taken the unheard-of step of writing down a woman’s name as nominee for the position of church elder. Fearful that he’ll be fired for such a blatant heresy, Cliff at first refuses to back her up on this. Kim perseveres, but she’s unable to strike a bargain until she’s willing to hear Cliff out.  A WOMAN adroitly manages to avoid becoming preachy despite its topic, and its central argument is more nuanced than the usual Patriarchy-vs-Sisterhood commonplace. Under Kel Haney’s subtle direction, Ikeda and Boyett share and endearing chemistry and shade their roles with wit and empathy.  Overall, though, the lacks heat, seeing as its core issue isn’t really an urgent debate in today’s world. There’s always room for improvement, of course. Yet all but the most archconservative Christian institutions have abolished any prohibition against female leadership, and many sects, like the Presbyterian, Mennonite, and Methodist churches (to name but a few) to have been ordaining women for decades. Cragin-Day’s heart is in the right place, but she seems to be looking in the wrong cathedral for glass ceilings.

A hip comedy of millennial manners, Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds’s WEDDING BASH represents the kind of sketch material SNL should be doing but rarely delivers.  Newlyweds Dana (Rachel Napoleon) and Lonny (Donovan Mitchell) are settling into domestic life after what they believe was a magical wedding. Their dinner guests, Alan (Andy Powers) and pregnant Edi (Georgia Ximines Lifsher), don’t agree. But in today’s walk-on-eggshells culture they feel compelled not to say anything critical. Finally, Alan decides he’s had enough. Conscripting Edi into his honesty campaign, he launches into a self-righteous dressing down of the “selfish wedding” in which the guests were coerced into spending a fortune in travel and accommodations only to suffer through a pretentious ceremony a paltry supply of booze. Lonny and Dana fire back with their own frank admissions:  Those wedding gifts you thought would dazzle us? Well, think again. Things escalate from there, and the resulting chaos leaves no one unscathed. The one thing BASH lacks is a satisfying punchline, but thanks to the comedic skills of the cast, and to Rebecca Lord-Surratt’s uber-bourgeois set design, there are plenty of laughs along the way.

Neil LaBute looks under the surface of professional sports in BREAK POINT, a drama centering on a major tennis tournament. Flush with endorsement money and a staggering string of championship wins Oliver (John Garrett Greer) appears to have everything. Internally, though, it’s a different story. Oliver’s under tremendous pressure to win 20 majors, breaking Federer’s record, and to do that he’ll need to make it to the finals in the French Open. Standing in his way is a formidable opponent, who also happens to be an old acquaintance. Stan (Keilyn Durrel Jones), hasn’t had the same success as Oliver, but his prowess is undeniable—enough so that Oliver’s chance at the title could be blown during the semis. Oliver hits upon an ingenious, if ugly, solution. Stan would find himself in the money if he’s willing to throw the match. Like a surprise serve, this indecent proposal throws Stan off for a moment, but he soon rallies, volleying his own slice shots into his opponent’s court. Tensions mount as the outcome of the match and the true intensions of the players grow increasingly uncertain. Both actors bring an athlete’s poise and kineticism to the game, with the solid, meditative Jones balancing Greer’s fretful garrulousness. As a director l, LaBute’s could stand to tighten the pace, and focus the actors’ energy more forcefully. But, as always, his sharp, provocative writing remains a highlight of the festival.

SUMMER SHORTS continues through September 2, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com/59e59/ Online/ default.asp

LUCKY

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Created & Directed by Henry Evans & Tommy McCarthy

Choreographed by Tyler Holoboski

Adding a dash of 21st Century hipster sensibility to the traditions of vaudeville and commedia dell'arte, Atlas Circus Company’s high-energy romp follows the misadventures of hapless young Everyman as he faces overwhelming obstacles in his quest for success and love in the big city.  Accompanied by composer David Evans at the piano, the troupe cavorts about the stage with stunning energy and a palpable joy, spinning everyday situations into farcical flights of giddy nonsensicality. Outside of an occasional lip-synched show tune or and some falsetto gibberish, there is no dialogue in LUCKY. The comedy’s all physical, and the ensemble are all highly skilled in the arts of acrobatics, mime, dance and improv.

The show is composed of nine lazzi, in which the eponymous hero says goodbye to his small-town family and heads off to New York. Armed only with an attaché case and a can-do attitude, he goes looking for work. But holding on to job (or even a sandwich) proves challenging when everything from gravity to social anxiety conspires to sabotage Lucky's efforts.

To elaborate further  would be to give away the cavalcade of surprises LUCKY has in store for its fortunate audience. Suffice it to say that ordinary objects are transformed into percussion ensembles, rapid-fire juggling contests are followed by feats of hair-raising aerialist acts and lyrical dance routines blend with forthrightly lowbrow pie-in-the-face slapstick shtick (actually it looks more like ricotta cheesecake: this is New York after all).

Lead actor Henry Evans has clearly made a close study of the great silent comedians, and his comic persona is flavored with a soupçon of Chaplin and echoes of Keaton and Lloyd. Yet Lucky is also an original creation, enlivened by Evans’s startling athleticism and acrobatic prowess. Paradoxically, it takes tremendous coordination to be a great stage klutz, and Evans, like his predecessors, has mastered the art of the meticulously choreographed accident.

Aided by Koren Harpaz’s animated backdrops, the supporting cast rounds out the whimsical cartooniverse through which Lucky meanders. Sporting a mesomorphic physique and a devilish grin, Leo Abel nimbly morphs into a panoply of urban archetypes, including a mugger, a construction worker and a vein bachelor eager to impress his date. With pompous brio, Russell Norris flings his tall, slim body into multiple variations on the theme of Tyrannical Boss. Rubber-limbed Avery Deutsch is irresistibly charming as Lucky's coworker and would-be love interest.

Here are a few added bonuses: Though by no means dumbed down, LUCKY is appropriate for all ages. Tickets are affordable, and Dixon place has a cozy bar on the first floor where the cast and creatives can often be found mingling with audience members.

LUCKY  continues through August 16, 2017 at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets, New York, New York.

Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/171

 

 

SUMMER SHORTS 2017: Series A

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Written by Melissa Ross, Alan Zweibel & Graham Moore
Directed by Mimi O'Donnell, Maria Mileaf & Alexander Dinelaris

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Thoughline Artists’ SUMMER SHORTS festival continues to offer an important showcase for actors, directors and writers of short-form theater. As usual, some scripts are more fully realized than others, but the caliber of the acting and the quality of the production remains consistent throughout the evening.

Anyone who’s ever lost a pet will empathize with the protagonists of Melissa Ross’s JACK.  Faced with the sad task of disposing of their beloved dog's remains, Maggie (Claire Karpen) and George (Aaron Roman Weiner in for Quincy Backer-Dunn) agree on a perfect spot: The Union Square dog run where Jack spent some of his happiest afternoons. It sounds simple enough, but as the two ex-spouses prepare to scatter the departed's ashes, old feelings bubble up to the surface. The ink has barely dried on their divorce, and though both are getting on with their lives, the wounds of separation haven't fully healed.  Thanks to Ross’s skillful and compassionate writing and Mimi O’Donnell’s naturalistic direction, a complex portrait of a troubled marriage begins to emerge. We get a glimpse of the chemistry that made George and Maggie a good couple at first, as well as the inertia that eventually pulled them apart. Weiner and Karpen allow themselves to be entirely vulnerable on stage, allowing the comic and poignant beats of the play to flow organically.

PLAYING GOD comically pits a mere mortal against the wrath of the Almighty. Egotistical obstetrician Scott Fisher (Dana Watkins) decides to interfere with the natural birth cycle and hasten the arrival of his Brittany’s (Flora Diaz) baby. He's not doing it out of concern for the patient, he just wants to reschedule the due date so he can dash off to Chile while the skiing is still good. God (Bill Buell) sees this as an encroachment on his territory. As he tells his assistant (Welker White), Fisher “needs a crash course in humility”. Soon, the young doctor finds himself literally playing God– on a squash court in Boca Raton. Assuming he'll trounce the old timer, Fisher is in for a rude awakening. Playwright Alan Zweibel could stand to further explore the comedic possibilities of his premises. But the script does contain its share of grand one liners and even a bit of Shavian discourse on the subject of Science vs. Faith, all of it volleyed with expert comic timing by Buell and Watkins.

Graham Moore's docudrama ACOLYTE takes place in 1954, in the New York apartment where Ayn Rand (Orlagh Cassidy) plays hostess to a couple of her eager young disciples. Recently wed, Barbara (Bronte Englandnelson) and Nathaniel Branden (Sam Lilja) are having some marital difficulties– and not just because he's an Aristotelian, while she favors the teachings Plato. Ayn, of course, capitalizes on the opportunity to preach her own philosophy of rational self-interest. Ayn's husband Frank (Ted Koch) purports to be a Regular Joe with little grasp of all this epistemological mumbo jumbo. In fact, he's more aware than anyone of what his wife is capable of. Loosened by booze and heady rhetoric, Nathaniel confesses that he's been harboring a strong attraction to Ayn, and Ayn admits she wouldn’t kick him out of bed either. Of course, if there's any swinging to be done, it must be handled in true Objectivist style, with all interested parties on the same page. How about it, Barbara? Willing to lend your husband's Johnson to The Cause?  The dramatic tension builds effectively as this rather Albee-esque dynamic threatens to hurtle the characters into uncharted emotional territory. Unfortunately, though, the energy dissipates when Ayn rises from her perch to deliver a lecture on the evils of Liberalism and other social trends. Though the charismatic Cassidy delivers the aria with compelling conviction, the monologue seems out of place. A more interesting option would be to delve deeper in to the character of Nathaniel, who would soon become a noted psychotherapist, and would one day author his own influential and widely-read book. Tellingly, he titled it The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

SUMMER SHORTS continues through September 2, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com/59e59/ Online/ default.asp

CLOUD 9

Cast of Cloud 9

Written by Caryl Churchill

Directed by Brandon Walker & Erin Corcoran

In today’s identity-obsessed culture, it’s not hard to see why a young theater company would want ot revisit Caryl Churchill’s gender-fluid meditation on the decline of the British Empire. By the same token, a lot has changed since 1979, and theater that was considered groundbreaking three decades ago can sometimes date poorly. As this spirited, if uneven revival shows, CLOUD 9 may have lost some of its shock value, but the dramatic core of the piece, skillfully built by Churchill, still holds up.

The evening gets off to an awkward start as we are introduced to Clive (Brandon Walker) and his wife Betty (male actor Ari Veach), a British couple living in colonial Africa in 1880. The early scenes are played with a good deal of shrillness and bombast (In! Which! Words! And! Even! Fragments! Of! Words! Are! E! Nunci! Ated! Very! Loudly!). The intention seems to be to underscore a modernist “V effect”. But much of the action feels more like Carol Burnett than Brecht. Once the story gets underway, however, the dark comedy begins to land with more nuance and an intriguing domestic power dynamic emerges. Matriarch Maud (Sabrina Schlegel-Mejia), believes in strictly the traditional roles for women. Clive and Betty’s son Edward (female actor Erin Corcoran), likes to steal dolls from his little sister Victoria (played by a styrofoam head) and fails to fulfill his father’s many expectations. African servant Joshua (white actor Bill McAndrews), acts servile but is constantly up to mischief. Clive flirts flagrantly with Mrs. Saunders (Jane Kahler), a visiting widow. Sexual tensions come to a head when explorer Harry Bagley (Robin Friend Stift), returns to “civilization” after months in the wilderness. Harry has trysts with Joshua and Edward, and tries with Clive as well. Appalled at his friend’s proclivities, Clive tries to fix the situation by marrying Harry off to governess Ellen (Kahler) a lesbian. As if the erotic mayhem weren’t enough, Churchill throws in an African rebellion, which, despite Clive’s violent efforts to squelch it, pulls all the characters into its vortex.

The second act is considerably more subdued, and the actors wear their roles with greater ease. In yet another surreal trope, the characters have only aged 25 years, but the world is a century older. Knocking around London, everyone seems to be searching for the New Normal. Gone are the seen-and-not-heard strictures of Victorian child rearing. If anything, little Cathy (Walker) controls her mum Lin (Corcoran) and not the other way round. Victoria (Schlegel-Mejia) loves Lin but isn’t quite sure how a same-sex marriage works. Edward (Stift) is clear that he wants to play the wifely role in his relationship with Gerry (Veach). But Gerry’s is too busy hooking up with random blokes to settle down. Betty’s husband Martin, struggling to keep pace with a changing culture, talks bluntly about sex and professes to be writing “a women’s novel, from the woman’s point of view.” All that remains of the old imperial system is the conflict in Northern Ireland, in which Lin’s brother, a soldier in the British army, loses his life. The play becomes a series of vignettes and monologues, some with an appealing lyricism which provides a pleasant counterbalance to the lustier first act. Viewed from a modern perspective, the characters (and perhaps the playwright) seem both touchingly innocent and maddeningly naive. They’re living on the cusp of Thatcher-Reagan era, AIDS crisis, and the emergence of a new world order. Like their Colonialist forebears, they don’t see the writing in the wall.

CLOUD 9 continues through July 16 at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets: Ovationtix.com.

IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM

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Written by David Rabe

Directed by Greg Cicchino

David Rabe writes in an organic, raging style seldom found among today’s playwrights. In the 21st Century’s short attention span, speed-obsessed culture, Rabe and others of his generation can seem a bit trippy and self-indulgent. Yet with the right approach to the material, Rabe’s odd blend of imagistic poetry and naturalistic street-speak can be made to sing. The trick is finding the internal rhythms of the text. In The Chain Theater’s sincere revival of IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM, director Greg Cicchino, attempts, with mixed results, to get inside Rabe’s musicality.

Thankfully, lead actor Nina Kassa provides the show with a strong emotional core and gives the other actors plenty of emotional energy to feed off of. Kassa stars as Chrissy, a childlike dancer sojourning in Philadelphia while setting her sights on a career in New York. In Philly’s reserved go-go clubs, the dancers remain dressed, but that doesn’t stop the clientele from pressing for a little more action. Unlike some of her colleagues, Chrissy doesn’t hook on the side. She does, however, attract the attention of ex-con Al (Kirk Gostkowski), who follows her home with his sidekick Ralphie (Paul Terkel). With his rough demeanor and racist rhetoric, Al stands out in sharp contrast to Eric (Kyle Kirkpatrick), another suitor, whose strict religious upbringing makes intimacy difficult. Even fellow dancer Susan (Christina Elise Perry) makes a pass at Chrissy. It seems the only person who isn’t sexually interested in her is her gay neighbor Guy (Deven Anderson). Unfortunately, none of them are able to offer Chrissy a healthy relationship. Raised in an atmosphere of secrecy and shame by Harold (Pete Mattaliano) and Helen (Malikha Mallette), Chrissy appears destined to repeat old patterns and make self-destructive choices– one of which will alter the course of her life forever.

When it’s cooking, the production succeeds ringing to life the script’s odd blend of social satire and personal tragedy. The father-daughter scenes, for example, are particularly effective (Mattaliano endows Harold with a salt-of-the-earth charm that makes his incestuous agenda all the more disturbing). Likewise, the 1970’s dance sequences are delivered with energy and precision by choreographer Sharron Lynn and performers Alexandra Tabas, Tina Marie Tanzer, Cori Stolbun and Tyler Reed. Unfortunately, not all of IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM lands with the same surety. As the show proceeds through its cavalcade of characters, multiple scene changes and myriad entrances and exits, something of the momentum gets lost in all the hurlyburly.

IN THE BOOM BOOM ROOM continues through May 6, 2017 at the American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th St (between 8 and 9 Ave.), New York, NY 10019. Tickets: /web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/29365

MOURNING THE LIVING

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Written by Mickele Hogan

Directed by Alan Souza

Though the some threads of its story could use more development, Mickele Hogan’s trim, well-constructed dramedy manages to steer clear of disease-of-the-week movie clichés in favor of a more ambiguous, believable examination of the effects of early onset Alzheimer’s.

David(Craig D’ Amico) still lives with his vivacious wife Kay (Jennifer Rau), but  his neurodegenerative disorder has progressed to the point where they no longer have much of a relationship. Kindly neighbor Marie, (Mary Leggio) knows just how to talk to David, and for the time being he can manage a few simple tasks. But deep down, Kay knows the day will eventually come when she will have to put her husband in a facility. Burdened as she is by this situation, Kay is also getting on with her own life. She enjoys her work as a teacher, and has been out on a few dates with Jerry (Chris Bolan), a high school principal who radiates decency and is clearly nuts about Kay. The relationship seems to be going well, but when Jerry finds out about David, he naturally has some misgivings. Kay assures him that her husband has already “left”, but Jerry isn’t easily convinced, especially when David’s occasional bouts of lucidity make it hard to get a read on his condition. Kay anxiously endeavors to somehow make the whole thing work, but the harder she struggles to hold on to both men, the more they both slip from her grasp. As she musters the courage to face the inevitable, Kay flashes back to a time when she and David, already trapped in a difficult marriage, first began to grappling with his disease.

Hogan’s dialogue has an agreeable flow to it, and there are welcome touches of humor that keep the evening from becoming lugubrious. Her writing is well served by a lively cast, which also includes Caroline Aimetti in a brief but delightful turn as one of Kay’s students. The show’s only sticking point is the character of David, who is consistently dour and prone to tantrums. Some of his behavior’s understandable: increased irritability is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s. Yet even in the flashbacks, Director Alan Souza shows us a rushed, preoccupied David. The show’s stark conclusion is affecting nonetheless. It could be more so if we were shown a clearer glimpse of what Kay and David once had when he was fully present, and what they lost when he went away.

MOURNING THE LIVING continues through April 22 at The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 West 36th St, New York, New York. Tickets: ovationtix.com/pr/969851.

 

 

SAM & DEDE, OR MY DINNER WITH ANDRE THE GIANT

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Written by Gino DiIorio
Directed by Leah S. Abrams

It would be hard to think of a more unlikely confluence of historical figures, and yet there’s evidence that Modernist playwright Samuel Beckett and pro wrestler Andre “The Giant” Rousimoff knew each other. In fact, they shared a good amount of time together when 12-year-old Andre, already too big to fit on the bus, hitched a ride to school in Beckett’s truck. Whether they stayed in touch is not known, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that they might have met up some years later in Paris, where several of Samuel’s plays debuted and Andre’s athletic career began. In this clever and oddly touching two hander, playwright Gino DiIorio imagines what might have occurred had such an encounter taken place.

The play begins in French countryside, where Samuel Beckett (Dave Sikula) has purchased property with the proceeds from his acclaimed play WAITING FOR GODOT. Local craftsman Boris Rousimoff helps him build a cottage, and when Samuel has difficulty paying for the work, he compensates Boris by giving his son Andre (Brendan Averett) a lift to school every morning.  Conversations are a bit stilted at first. But when the two guys discover their shared love of cricket, the mood becomes more relaxed. Beckett being Beckett, he’s not always able to give Andre (“Dede” for short) the cogent answers his young mind craves. Yet the closeness between them gradually grows, and Dede opens up about the social awkwardness caused by his stature and about his desire to escape small town life and travel to the City of Lights.

As it happens, Dede gets his wish. At the French premier of Beckett’s ENDGAME, the two men reunite, and Sam is pleased to learn that Dede is working in Paris as a furniture mover and gaining a reputation in the wrestling world. Dede is impressed with the performance but bemused by his friend’s seeming inability to enjoy his growing success. When they meet again, things have changed, and yet the affection between the two men remains undiminished. It’s now 1975.  Beckett is required reading in colleges everywhere, and Andre’s a World Wrestling Federation star. The two share some laughs and down several bottles of wine (Andre has become an epic drinker). Andre tells wild anecdotes and teaches Sam the tricks of the wrestling trade. Amid the laughter, though, somber truths emerge. The same pituitary condition that makes Dede a giant also affects his circulatory system, and he knows his own end game is not far off. Sam, too, admits that he has looked death in the face. As if in an existentialist novel, he was stabbed on the streets of Paris by a pimp who, by his own admission, had no reason for his actions. As the evening progresses, Dede, the master of stadium theatrics, and Sam, who wrestles with life’s great intangibles, find they have more in common than meets the eye.

In lesser hands, this juxtaposition of high and low culture would be played for easy laughs. Thankfully, DiIorio isn’t content to merely flatter the audience with inside jokes for the Beckett-literate. The comedy here is of a gentler sort, deriving from the struggle of two men, each with a good heart, to navigate a modern world that often refuses to make sense. Averett maintains the same ingenuous verve as he transitions from an awkwardly outsized child to a Rabelaisian roisterer. Sikula captures virile intellect and quizzical melancholy beneath Sam’s cordial demeanor. Using minimal strokes, director Leah S. Abrams neatly establishes the physical world of the play, and gently puts across the message that, for all its concomitant frustrations and unsolvable riddles, being human does have its upside.

SAM AND DEDE continues through 59E59 Theaters. 59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, NY 10022. Tickets: http://www.theatermania.

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OMEGA KIDS

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Written by Noah Mease

Directed by Jay Stull

Despite the likability of its characters, Noah Mease’s glimpse of twenty-something life doesn’t pack enough energy to justify its running time. The fault lies not with the show’s premise: some very good scripts eschewed plot in favor of philosophical discourse. There’s a difference, though, between the art of conversation and mere gab. If this is meant to be a millennial answer to My Dinner With Andre, it falls wide of its target.

Fanboy Michael (Will Sarratt), attaches almost religious significance to the Omega Kids series of comic books (something akin to the X-Men and Justice League). He talks of little else as he pays a visit to a colleague, also named Michael (Fernando Gonzalez) at the latter’s apartment in Boston. It’s a rainy night, and At Home Michael encourages Visitor Michael to stay the night rather than brave the weather. Thus begins what amounts to a sleepover, during which the two young men pass the time chatting, and doing little else. There is some sexual tension under the goofy grins and small talk, but it dissipates as Visitor Michael reveals that neither men nor women seem to have any effect on his libido (Unfortunately, he doesn’t elaborate on this, and audiences interested in the experiences of people who identify as asexual will have to look elsewhere). At Home Michael shares a few details about his bisexuality and a difficult childhood spent in group homes and foster families, sometimes with abusive guardians. The point seems to be that he is able to let his down with Visitor Michael. Yet the divulgences don’t seem to bring about any catharsis, and the two guys, rather than growing closer, soon drift off to other, more mundane topics.  The script gets a bit more compelling when Mease takes a more Shavian approach, allowing both Michaels to advance a social argument. Visitor Michael likes the new diversity that permeates contemporary comics culture. At Home Michael is not impressed with what he sees as the token inclusion of a few gay couples and people of color in a medium traditionally dominated by super-white, super-straight male protagonists. Sadly, there are few such beats in OMEGA KIDS’ 90 minutes of colloquy, and we learn little about how the young see the world they’ve inherited.

Director Jay Stull gives his cast few props to work with or activities to focus on, so the actors spend most of the evening exploring myriad variations on the actions of sitting cross legged or reclining on a shag carpet. Sarratt and Gonzalez seem relaxed and natural, and they are appealing to watch for a while. But their talents would be put to better use in a leaner, more purposeful production. Trimmed to a fighting weight, OMEGA KIDS might make a charming one act. At its current length, its packs more superfluity than superpower.

OMEGA KIDS continues through  March 25 at the Access Theater 380 Broadway, New York, NY 10013. For tickets call: (800) 838-3006

NIBBLER

Nibbler

Written by Ken Urban

Directed by  Benjamin Kamine

Scenic Design by Anshuman Bhatia, Costume Design by Lux Haac, Lighting Design  by Christina Watanabe, Sound Design by Christian Frederickson, Projections by Ien Deniro and Christina Watanabe, Puppet Design by Stefano Brancato, Prop Design by Zach Serafin

A kind of Gen X spin on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ken Urban’s teen dramedy looks at what happens when the comforting routines of high school begin to crumble under the pressures of adulthood.

It’s the summer of 1992, and everything 80’s is on its last legs. The cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union is over, and Bill Clinton is poised to end a twelve year run of Republican leadership. Nirvana and Pearl Jam haven’t yet transformed pop radio, and Morissey and Depeche Mode are still the patron saints of adolescent angst. At least that’s how it is in Medford, New Jersey, where Adam (James Kautz), is doing his slacker thing. There’s not much to do in this suburban wasteland, but at least Adam has a tight group of fellow misfits to help him pass the time. Matt (Spencer Davis Milford), tries to act confident although his hot girlfriend Hayley (Elizabeth Lail), can see that he lacks experience. Tara (Rachel Franco) keeps throwing herself at Matt and his best bud Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan), but they only see her as a friend. Desperate to cross the sexual border into adulthood, Tara stumbles into an affair with Dan (Matthew Lawler), an older, married cop who grew up in Medford and never left. All these little episodes fairly  typical of small town society, but soon life in Medford begins to look less like an indie drama and more like an alien invasion B movie. Late at night, a green, multi-limbed extraterrestrial called the Nibbler (presumably named for arcade game of the same name), injects its unsuspecting victims with a mysterious venom that alters their personalities. One by one, Adam’s friends become unrecognizable. Matt, eschewing the fashionable political apathy of the day, morphs into a racist, homophobic right-winger. Tara takes the opposite stance, donning slogan-laden clothes and volunteering for the Clinton campaign. Pete sports  a lavender tee shirt and comes out about being gay. They all start moving away to college, doing something with their lives, leaving the ambition-less Adam without his old support system. The party’s over, and Adam finds himself facing a daunting choice: find some sense purpose in life, or end up like Dan in 20 years.

The cast rises nimbly to the challenge of the script, making the characters’ identity transitions both comical and convincing. Director Benjamin Kamine, aided by the show’s impressive production values, weaves the mundane and surreal elements of the story into a motley tribute to the quirky culture of 90’s.The script, likes its protagonist, is both endearing and a bit unfocused. The most affecting beats deal with the real (not alien-induced) maturation process, as young adults discover the messiness and ambiguity of actual human relationships. The fleeting tenderness between Tara and Dan, for example, is handled with disarming delicacy, as is the pained awkwardness of Pete’s unspoken desire for the clueless Adam. Other scenes are less theatrically engaging, especially the ones that center on the unnibbled Adam. We learn that he is in a band, and that he is worried he may have gotten someone pregnant. Yet, for some reason, all these events happen offstage and don’t seem to influence the course of the story. If Adam could be less of a “lens character” and more of a three-dimensional person with real problems and dreams, NIBBLER would have more of the bite it needs.

NIBBLER continues through March 18 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater: 224 Waverly Place New York, NY 10014. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34100