THE HOLLOWER

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                                                                                        photo by Hunter Canning

Written by Liza Birkenmeier
Directed by Kristy Dodson

As if planning a career in quirkiness, high school senior Bit (Reyna de Courcy) stomps about her slovenly house bedecked in a motley ensemble of platform shoes, mismatched athletic gear and retro wigs of various colors. She looks like refugee from an Ionesco play by way of a vintage MTV pop video, but it’s hard to blame her for wearing her oddness on her sleeve. She’s just reacting to the topsy-turvy world in which she finds herself. Raised in a cult, Bit escaped with her parents to Scandinavia, and has now been placed in the low-pressure Florida home of laconic hospital worker Otto (Patrena Murray).  Down in the dumps after having been left by her girlfriend, Otto has let her house go to hell and shows little interest in anything other than donuts and whisky. Authorities believe the gifted but low-functioning Bit is likely to thrive in this mellow environment. But Otto, it turns out, is a little too unobtrusive for her young ward’s liking. Once in a while, it would be nice if Otto set some rules, or at least expressed concern when Bit stays out late and doesn’t call. While these tensions simmer, Otto receives a surprise visit from the Pigman (Ryan Wesley Stinnett), a new media mogul whose right arm ends in a hoof rather than a hand and who is prone to fits of oinking when things don’t go his way. Oozing smarm, the porcine impresario, accompanied by his masked assistant Missy (ToriAnne DiFilippo), talks the baffled Otto into participating in an “exposé on middle-aged childless single women.” Bit, meanwhile, enlists the help of Claymation prodigy Wilkin Rush George III (Samuel Im) in creating a “cross-disciplinary” thesis project on the woes of women in colonial-era Canada. The endeavor hits a snag when Bit becomes less interested in her story than in having sex with Wilkin. Mayhem and entropy ensue, along with an intriguing mashup of musical genres from Bit’s post-alternative rock band.

Director Kristy Dodson takes a refreshingly deadpan approach, allowing playwright Liza Birkenmeier’s buzzword-laden dialogue and oddball plot twists to elicit laughs without excess underlining. The cast rises to the task, with De Courcy finding the deeper tones and subtler emotions beneath Bit’s teen vocal fry. Murray, who manages to make Otto likable despite her resigned moodiness, provides an apt foil for both de Courcy’s adolescent edginess and Stinnett’s smiling tyranny. Im vibrates with the naïve arrogance of teenage ambition, while DiFilippo’s Missy communicates effectively without speaking. You-Shin Chen’ scenic design and Max Archimedes Levitt’s costumes help create a wonky universe that blends the flights of fancy with the grimy reality of downscale American life. THE HOLLOWER runs a bit long, and its Absurdist energy loses momentum in the later scenes, but the show’s eccentric bounce, and the fun house mirror Birkenmeier holds up to contemporary culture make it a ride worth taking.

THE HOLLOWER continues through June 9, 2018 at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3389611?cookie_header=1

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REPLAY

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Written and performed by Nicola Wren
Directed by George Chilcott

For a piece that explores grief, loss, and recovery Nicola Wren’s extended monologue is remarkably breezy and charming. Make no mistake, though, Wren hasn’t skimped on her psychological homework. If anything, her light touch and unassuming personality make the show’s catharsis more palpable. As in real life, she doesn’t arrive a breakthrough in one grand deluge of tears, but through the clumsy, exasperating process of sorting out the past and confronting the unknowability of the future.

As the action begins, Wren’s alter ego, a young police officer known only as W, is having a rough time of it. She can’t keep her food down, struggles to prepare for her upcoming sergeant’s exam, and falls violently ill during a routine call.  The problem, as it turns out, isn’t caused by eating dodgy prawns: W has never fully digested the death of her big brother Jamie. Emotions are piqued when W, on the eve of her birthday, receives an unusual package from her mother in Northampton. It contains a cassette tape, recorded by Jamie (voiced by Mark Weinman) but never sent. I was meant for W to listen to on her twelfth birthday, one that Jamie didn’t live long enough to see. The tape contains affectionate well wishes, goofy voices, and a song (“Sit Down” by the Manchester pop band James) of special significance to W and Jamie. It’s not much to go on, but it helps reawaken memories loving, bright, and troubled man her brother truly was, as W repeatedly replays the tape, strange dreams, and odd coincidences begin to occur.  Her police work brings her in contact with others who have lost a loved one to suicide, “Sit Down” comes on the radio, encouraging those “those who feel the breath of sadness” not to give up hope. Even one of her dotty neighbor’s multiple cats seems to be carrying a message for W. As W’s old coping mechanisms come undone, her world becomes a surreal swirl. But being confused also means being open, and when help arrives from an unexpected place, W is ready to accept it.

Weighing in at a lean 60 minutes and composed of brisk, present tense phrases, REPLAY comprises just enough detail to provide a glimpse of the protagonist’s interior life and evoke the thrum of contemporary London. In fact, the script’s only flaw is that Wren provides only sketchy information regarding Jamie’s behavior patterns. W recalls, as a child, hearing her father talk of Jamie’s “good days”, but she seems to have no memory of his bad days. Nor does the adult W, despite her professional training in detection, go about researching clinical depression or gathering clues to help her understand her brother’s world. Nonetheless, W’s inner trajectory gives the endearing Wren, as a performer, plenty to work with. Both as an adult police officer and as her playful childhood self, she vibrates with intelligence and emotional purity. Director George Chilcott, using a three-quarter-round stage to it’s full advantage, giving Wren both room to play and parameters to define the show’s physical and emotional space.

REPLAY continues through May 13, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. https://www.ticketcentral.com

MANGLED BEAMS

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Written by Dawn Jamieson
Directed by Christen Omantra Callahan

Though it’s noticeably under-rehearsed,  there is much to like in Amerinda’s potent examination of New York’s Native American community and its crucial role the building and rebuilding of the city.

It is September of 2001 Brad Martin (Denny Desmarais), is an experienced construction worker, but Sal (Mike Pirozzi), who runs the local hiring hall, won’t put him on a  shift. It doesn’t help that Brad is not in the union and has been known to show up to work soused. But the real problem, of course, is racism. It’s a strange prejudice, considering that Native American workers, many of them “sky walkers” known for their immunity to fear of heights, were valued members of the crews that built the Empire State Building, the Twin Towers and many other iconic New York structures. Nevertheless, according to Sal, the new real estate moguls don’t seem to want them around anymore.Brad’s ex-con little brother Dave (Dylan Carusona) gets around this problem by greasing Sal’s palm. He and his partner-in-crime Joe Cross (Jess Monroe), supplement their meager construction incomes by smuggling cigarettes, Canadian booze, and other black-market items into the city. Ambitious college graduate Greg Linden (Greg Seage), hopes to find a political solution to the discrimination. He attracts media attention and prepares to run for a seat on the Tribal Council back home on the reservation. Greg claims to be fighting for his people, but his girlfriend Becky (Maeve Crispi) has her doubts. Indeed, as he searches for campaign money Greg’s casino-operator father Joe (John Scott-Richardson) seems a little too eager to strike a mutually beneficial deal.

While the battle for equality continues, internecine tensions simmer. Dave and Brad have an uneasy history, while Becky, who once threw Dave aside, begins to give him a second look. Brad returns to AA, hoping it’s not too late to reconcile with his estranged wife Fern (Erin Kelley), and their kids. Interwoven with these conflicts is an internal balancing act, as the characters struggle to choose between city and reservation, tradition and modernity. When the Twin Towers collapse, some of the old social barriers fall with them. Even Sal can no longer afford to discriminate, as the rescue effort will require all hands. High above the wreckage, the beam walkers come face to face with their true natures. Some emerge as heroes, others reveal weakness of character.  All are changed by the crisis, and prompted to find an authentic way of moving forward into an uncertain future.

Scrupulously fair to all its characters, Jamieson’s script skillfully weaves its multiple narratives and themes of cultural and personal dilemmas  into a cohesive statement. There is even a healthy dose of humor to counterbalance the seriousness of the subject matter. As with any large cast play, though, keeping a consistent pace and tone proves challenging. Led by Director Christen Omantra Callahan, a committed, multi-generational ensemble does its best to serve the story, and much of the show is effective. But along with the bright spots there are cues that need to be tightened, entrances and exits that seem too tentative. The heart of MANGLED BEAMS shines through regardless, but the show feels like it’s under construction.

MANGLED BEAMS continues through April 29, 2018 at  the A.R.T./New York Theatres
502 West 53rd Street, New York, NY . Tickets: mangledbeams.brownpapertickets.com.

DUTCH MASTERS

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Written by Greg Keller
Directed by Andre Holland

In 1992, place names like “Brooklyn” and “Bronx” still had a potent ring to them. Midtown Manhattan may have been dominated by the yuppie class, but in the lawless Outer Boroughs, serviced by graffiti-ridden letter trains, different rules applied. In decades that followed, broken windows policing, terrorist attacks, gentrification-on-steroids and maverick mayors, changed the face of the city. Taking a look back at the Dinkins era, Greg Keller’s seriocomic two hander serves as a reminder of the volatile vibe that used to define New York, and of the tensions, hopes and inequalities that still simmer beneath the city’s ever-glossier surface.

While riding a northbound D train, two young men meet, seemingly at random. Clean-cut, Caucasian Steve (Jake Horowitz), is on his way home to Riverdale when Eric (Ian Duff), a black man about the same age, plants himself in the adjacent seat and starts talking. Naturally, Steve doesn’t want to appear racist or unhip, but he has the true New Yorker’s reluctance to get mixed up in some stranger’s life- especially one who purports to be a stickup artist. A shrewd manipulator, Eric knows what buttons to push, and Steve finds himself sharing a blunt with his new friend in some unfamiliar section of the Bronx. The eponymous Dutch Masters cigars provide convenient holders for the dope Eric buys on the corner. And the image on the package, of bearded Flemish tradesmen in “ill” buckled hats prompts a wry discourse on the Dutch mafia that used to control New Amsterdam, along with a host of other anecdotes and observations. Eric and Steve seem to be growing closer, especially as they discover a share a passion for rap music and basketball. Their budding friendship barely gets a flourish before Steve, unused to drugs this strong, loses consciousness. He comes to in Eric’s place, a place to which he’s never been yet which, somehow, contains familiar objects. Their meeting, it appears, was anything but accidental. A common past binds them together, and their journey toward a painful but necessary reckoning has just begun.

Unlike most two-person shows, Keller’s script travels spatially as well as psychologically, keeping the audience guessing as to where and Steve and Eric’s adventure will end. The dialogue, for the most part, flows naturally, and when the big reveal happens it feels organic to the story. On a few occasions, the characters sound like mouthpieces for yet another debate on cultural appropriation (“You took my music. The way I walk. The way I talk”, complains Eric, rationalizing his own theft of material objects as minor by comparison). But for the most of DUTCH MASTERS steers clear of clichés, preferring instead to focus on the intersection of the personal and political. And therein lies the plays power. We’re rooting for these guys to, if not become friends, at least find common ground. But at every turn, the social baggage they carry, the insecurity with which the travel through a dangerous world, have the potential to widen the gulf between them.

Director Andre Holland, himself an actor of uncompromising authenticity, draws vulnerable, purely spontaneous performances from Duff and Horowitz. The design style, as befits the story, is understated, with Ntokozo Kunene’s costumes and Xavier Pierce’s lighting evoking a sense of time and place without distracting from the actors’ chemistry. Significantly, Jason Simms’ scenic design goes from suggested to specific once we get to Eric’s apartment. Before Eric even says a word, we see the primness, care and taste with which his late mother adorned the place. Her presence is palpable, as if she’s watching to see whether the dreams she instilled in her son will be fulfilled – or dashed against impossible circumstances.

DUTCH MASTERS continues through April, 21, 2018 at The Wild Project 195 East 3rd Street, New York, NY 10009. Tickets: web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/621/1522555200000

THE EDGE OF OUR BODIES

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Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Jacqueline Stone

Popular among UK playwrights, the extended-monologue, or “plovel” approach to storytelling seems to be catching on in America. Essentially the lovechild of a play and a novel, a plovel is a performance piece that is spoken by an actor, but constructed as a work of prose fiction. As the narrator interacts with other characters or travels to different settings, we get a description of the scene, rather than a physical manifestation of it. Even dialogue is handled by one actor playing all the parts, with phrases like “he says” or “I answer” following the lines. Shows that use the plovel technique, of course, offer something very different – and often less satisfying – than multi-actor treatments of the same themes. But a skilled writer can work within the limitations of the idiom, even taking advantage of prose’s ability to easily shift locations and articulate the narrator’s inner thoughts. Trying his hand at this form, playwright Adam Rapp brings his usual flair for creating vibrant characters and probing raw emotions. He is less successful when it comes to choosing a theatrical framework for the show. Elements like a surrealistic set, eerie lighting and brief appearance of an extra character seem designed to give the show a distinctive style, but in the end prove more distracting than thought-provoking.

Performer Carolyn Molloy, who brings charm and honesty to the part, plays 16-year-old Bernadette. Reading though her diary, she talks of her relationship with her boyfriend Michael, her friendship with his father Wayne, who is dying of cancer, of her unexpected pregnancy, her divorcing parents, her adventures in New York and Connecticut, and ultimately of the decisions that will shape her future. Along the way, she begins to understand her place in the life cycle and she compares her vital body to Wayne’s deteriorating one, and to the potential new life within her. It’s familiar territory, but the refreshingly plain and candid tone of the script keeps Bernadette’s story from becoming cliché. There is no stereotypical teen angst or teary life-lesson melodrama here, just an unadorned depiction of the curiosity that enables Bernadette to drink in the details of the world around her, the thrumming libido that leads her into the arms of an older man, the quiet but unflagging drive to become her own woman.

Given the gentle potency of the protagonist’s voice, it’s all the more puzzling that Rapp and director Jacqueline Stone seems so hell-bent on placing obstacles between her and the audience. Martin Andrew’s set, though certainly attractive, sports red lights and a gauze curtain that obscures separates Molloy’s facial expressions. Similarly, the Maintenance Man (Robert James Hickey) stays onstage so briefly we don’t get much of a clue as to what he’s supposed to symbolize. If the idea is to provoke a kind of distanciation effect, it needs to be done with a greater sense of purpose. As it is, these Avant-garde touches feel superfluous, as if someone squirted a blob of Brechti-wip topping on a dish that already has all the flavor it needs. THE EDGE OF OUR BODIES would work fine on a bare stage, and what edge it has comes from the bright, wandering teenaged psyche we see laid bare before us. At heart, it’s a coming of age story, told in straightforward, affecting language. That may not be the newest idea in town, but it works better than its creators seem to trust. Serving it straight would be a stronger choice.

EDGE OF OUR BODIES continues through April 22, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, New York. Tickets at ticket-central.com

EDUCATION

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Written by Brian Dykstra
Directed by Margarett Perry

As a famous playwriting maxim goes, “start your scenes late and get out early”. Brian Dykstra gets it, and in the first act of his timely exploration of free speech and youth activism in 21st Century America, he skillfully airdrops the audience into a personal-slash-ideological conflict already in motion.

Due to what some adults see as transgressive behavior, high school senior Mick (Wesley T. Jones), has been called into the principal’s office. His provocative entry in the school art competition consists of an American flag suspended over a Bunsen burner, with a can of lighter fluid nearby. Mick hasn’t actually set fire to the flag, but his intention was clear enough. Responsible for both school safety and community standards, Principal Kirks (Bruce Faulk), grills the young man as to the thinking (or lack thereof) behind this sudden outburst creative of expression. Mick, of course, knows more than any grownup (what 17-year-old doesn’t?) and launches into a trite tirade on everything that’s wrong with The System. The principal’s responses are more cynical than authoritarian (“What, nothing on gay marriage?”), but he’s still required to mete out an appropriate punishment.  Mick will be suspended for three days and banned from participating in -or even attending the upcoming Art Fair. Worse, Kirks calls him a “little bitch” and chides him for having spent so little money and effort on this project. It’s not what Mick -or the audience – is expecting. Kirks isn’t preaching conformity, he’s ridiculing Mick for his lack of commitment. If you’re going to create something incendiary, at least do it right. Art demands sacrifice, kiddo.

While Mick plots his magnum opus, his girlfriend Bekka (Jane West), struggles with her own First Amendment problems. She’s been participating in local poetry slams, and her latest ode – not without justification – is full of F bombs. Kirks decides lets it go, as long as she keeps the offending material off school grounds. But Bekka’s ordeal is hardly relieved. She still has to deal with her devoutly Christian mother, Sandy (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse), who does not approve of young ladies using foul language. Her father, a firm believer in “domestic discipline”, punishes disobedience with physical abuse. Nevertheless, Bekka’s rebellious streak remains strong, as does her ideological kinship with Mick.  He will need Bella’s help in order to launch sneak his project into the Art Fair, and she bravely obliges. This time the art piece involves destroying an icon even more sacrosanct than the red-white-and-blue, and Mick and Bekka are expecting a push back. Thankfully, and Mick’s uncle Gordon (Matthew Boston), a liberal atheist who once studied law, is ready and able to duke it out with the establishment. Yet even he is unprepared the conflagration that engulfs what was once a placid community.

Unfortunately, though the issues remain compelling throughout the play, the energy cools in the later scenes as the debate becomes one-sided.  Clever Gordon easily backs his opponents into corners, and Mick’s iconoclastic agenda rarely meets with a cogent counter-argument. Eventually even the caustic Kirks softens, using his own life as an object lesson in the perils of compromise. Regardless of the playwright’s individual stance, a more evenly pitched battle of ideals would make for a more dynamic evening of theater. “In a good play, everyone is right,” is another writing adage worth heeding.

Despite these drawbacks, Dykstra’s humor and humanity, expertly mined by an appealing cast under Margarett Perry’s brisk direction, distinguish EDUCATION from many less-inspired topical dramas.  But it has the potential to cut deeper, to fulfill its promise of bringing the dynamics of the classic problem play to the trenches of today’s culture wars.  More of a flavor of Ibsen and Shaw, and a soupçon less of John Hughes, would give it the kick it needs.

EDUCATION continues through April 8, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022. Tickets: https://www.ticketcentral.com.

LATER LIFE

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Written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein

Well served by the perennially solid Keen Company, A. R. Gurney’s Clinton-era seriocomedy pins its astute psychological insights to a clever theatrical conceit. As the two romantic leads carry the main story line, two versatile supporting players stretch their acting muscles (and the wardrobe department’s ingenuity) as they morph into cavalcade of incidental characters. The production falls just a hair shy of the crisply timed delivery the material demands. But it will no doubt tighten during the run as the actors – all of them equipped with remarkable comedic skills- become more accustomed to the show’s myriad costume changes and entrance cues. As for the script, it’s old school in the best sense of the word. Taking in place in real time and in a single setting, the story unfolds naturally, with just a hint of farcicality, like a splash of crème to cassis in a glass of champagne, to keep things interesting.

On a balmy night in Boston, dapper Austin (Laurence Lau), attends an elegant soiree held in a swanky apartment overlooking the harbor. His fashion-conscious friend Sally (Jodie Markell in the first of her many roles) tells Austin to wait on the rooftop patio while she fetches a friend she wants him to meet. Austin scarcely has time to take in the view before his reverie is punctured by the arrival of Jimmy (Liam Craig in the first of his many roles), an eccentric college professor who sermonizes on the virtues of smoking even as he struggles to give it up. There are many such episodes throughout the next 90 minutes, as a series of endearingly odd party guests wander out to the roof, disrupting the growing intimacy between Austin and Ruth (Barbara Garrick). At first, the two seem to be, as Sally predicted, perfect for each other. But as the evening wears on, they discover they have profound differences as well. For their budding romance to have a chance, Austin will have to overcome his New England stuffiness, Ruth to resist the impulse to reunite with her dangerous-but-exciting ex-husband. Large questions loom as well. Does later life bring greater self-awareness and therefore better odds of getting it right? Or are we, like Jimmy and his cigarettes, fated to repeat old patterns even when we’re old enough to know better?

Jonathan Silverstein, handles the story’s blend brightness and melancholy with a light, but never timid touch. Steven Kemp’s set and David Lander’s lights vividly underscore the story’s shifting moods, making the rooftop background a kind of character in its own right. Jennifer Paar’s opulent costumes speak volumes about the personalities and social training of a sprightly Ruth, staid Austin, and motley host of revelers. Wig and hair artists Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas rise to the show’s challenges with panache and precision.

LATER LIFE continues through April 4, 2018 at The Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Aves) New York, NY 10036. Tickets at http://www.telecharge.com.

THE LONELIEST NUMBER

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Written by Lizzie Vieh
Directed by Maria Dizzia

The course of true love never did run smooth. In fact, for the denizens of Lizzie Vieh’s confounding universe, even arranging a casual kinky encounter can be fraught with hazards.

John (Maurice Jones) Wendy (Leigh Williams) have reached an impasse in their marriage. The initial passion that drew them together has cooled, and because a bout with testicular cancer has rendered John infertile, they haven’t been able to start a family.  Desperate to liven up their intimacy, the couple decide to experiment with threesomes. The way some couples decide what to see on movie night, they take turns choosing third partners. Wendy’s picks eccentric (possibly mildly autistic) coworker Kevin (Justin Yorio), whose social awkwardness makes John uncomfortable. As it turns out, Kevin is up for the ménage a trois, but for the wrong reasons. He’s deeply in love with Wendy, and will do anything to be close to her. This wasn’t in the plan, but Wendy likes being desired and begins seeing Kevin on the sly. Further complications arise when it’s John’s turn to choose. Free-spirited Arianne (Cassandra Paras), is game for some polyamory, but Wendy begins to lose her nerve. What she really wants, it seems, is out of the marriage. But when John’s illness returns and Kevin’s dark side emerges, she is forced to search her soul for the right answer.

Intriguingly, the male characters are more emotionally available than the women in the play. John, especially, careens to extremes of feeling as both his marriage and his health become increasingly unstable. Under Maria Dizzia’s bold direction, Jones throws himself into the role with powerful rawness and vulnerability. In less mercurial but equally challenging roles, Williams, Yorio and Paras maintain the honesty and spontaneity the material demands. Vieh’s script is tender and insightful, and the issues it probes are timely. But there’s potential here for further exploration of the characters’ drives and desires. It never becomes clear what Wendy’s looking for as she channel surfs through different life choices. And Arianne is likable, but, outside of a brief sermon on the virtues of eco-friendly dry cleaning, exhibits almost zero passion. As it is, THE LONELIEST NUMBER is a moving evening of theater. A more fully-rendered cast of characters would raise it to a higher level.

THE LONELIEST NUMBER continues through March 10, 2018,  at The Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente Soto Vélez Center, 107 Suffolk Street, in Manhattan. For tickets, call 646-299-2140 or visit http://www.amios.nyc.

TIME STANDS STILL

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Written by Donald Marguiles
Directed by Jerry Heymann

TIME STANDS STILL made its New York debut in January of 2010. Though it sported a cast of A listers, the material wasn’t well served by the production. Something of the nuances of Donald Marguiles’s multilayered script were overwhelmed by the size of the show’s Broadway venue. The script plays better in an intimate venue, and audiences who were underwhelmed by the original production will discover new relevance, rawness and humor the New Light Theater’s heartfelt revival.

After suffering a near-fatal injury, photojournalist Sarah (Nancy Nagrant), returns home to Brooklyn to recuperate. Her boyfriend James (John Long), a war correspondent and freelance writer, tries to help as much as possible. But the relationship between them is as strained as it is loving. For one thing, James is burdened by guilt. He and Sarah worked side by side overseas, James filing dispatches while she took photos, until a nervous breakdown forced him to flee the war zone. Having abandoned her, he now seeks to be the man he failed to be. Sarah, too, suffers from feelings of remorse and secret grief. While James was away, she allowed her relationship with Tariq, a local interpreter (a “fixer” in press jargon), to become more than just professional. The affair did not end because of loyalty to James, but because Tariq was killed in the same blast that wounded Sarah. One thing that wasn’t destroyed is Sarah’s work, and when close friend Richard (Ross DeGraw) drops by for a visit, he’s wowed by the new pictures. A photo editor at a major magazine, Richard believes he can help James and Sarah to turn their war reportage into book. James worries that it’s too soon, but for Sarah the only way forward is by doing what she’s always done. Just as she readies herself to get back into the action, James finds himself infused with newfound desire for home and stability. After all, Richard and his pregnant wife Mandy (Assol Abdullina), seem happy (even if she is half his age). Renewing their commitment, Sarah and James decide to tie the knot, but the way forward is more fraught than a minefield. Simmering resentments and deep disagreements threaten to topple everything they’ve built.

The script goes to both painful and tenderly funny places as these intelligent, troubled characters navigate the intersection of personal and polemical. Both Sarah and James wonder if, for its righteous intent, their work even has any relevance anymore. Does anything really change? Or do readers linger only briefly on what Mandy calls “bummer stories”, before moving on to puff pieces and celebrity profiles? Does pointing a camera at tragedy commemorate, or merely exploit the sufferers? These questions are borderline unanswerable, but they refuse to go away.

Under Jerry Heymann’s tight direction, the little battles fought in the living rooms and kitchens no longer seem trivial. In their own way, domestic negotiations are as important as the larger crises raging in the world. Nagrant movingly captures Sarah’s battered idealism, her unspoken hurts, the blend of romanticism and trench-worn toughness with which she pursues her calling. Equally compelling, Long embodies James’s disillusion and resilience, his ambivalent relationship with the high ideals that both drive and drain him. The two leads receive ample support from the supporting cast. DeGraw strikes both the fatherly and conniving aspects of and editor’s persona with equal authenticity. As the uncorrupted Mandy, Abdullina provides both comic relief and a voice of hope. Brian Dudkiewicz’s sets Ashleigh Poteat lighting add realism and panache to this memorable production.

TIME STAND STILL continues through February 24, 2018 at 13th Street Rep,  50 W 13th Street New York, NY 10011 between 5th and 6th Avenues. Tickets: tssplay. brown-papertickets.com

THE CHEKHOV DREAMS

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Written by John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby

Though it’s in need of some judicious trimming, John McKinney’s engagingly surreal romcom largely succeeds in building a delectable Dagwood sandwich of multiple genres, archetypes and conventions. The play’s premise and tone bring to mind both the metaphysical mayhem of BLITHE SPIRIT and the fantasy-vs-reality tension of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. But THE CHEKHOV DREAMS takes these themes to unexpected, often lyrical places, and the wit and tenderness with which McKinney renders his vibrant characters  give the audience both an enjoyable ride and something to talk about after the curtain falls.

Ever since the untimely death of his fiancé Kate, Jeremy (Dana Watkins), has been living a life of purposeless squalor. Living on an inheritance, he seldom cleans – let alone leaves – his apartment, and avoids any meaningful connection with other people. He only feels alive in his dreams, where he and Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) are reunited. These nocturnal rendezvous have a dark undercurrent, though. Kate wants Jeremy to commit suicide, so he can join her in the afterlife. A tug of war ensues as Jeremy’s hedonistic brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) attempts to pull him towards life. The opposite of mopey Jeremy, Eddie leads a life of perpetual motion, indulging his voracious appetite for booze, cocaine and kinky sex clubs. At Eddie’s insistence, Jeremy gets back to work on his unfinished novella and enrolls in an acting class. His scene partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber), is sincere and enthusiastic, but the material they’re assigned, proves problematic. It’s a scene from THE SEAGULL, and Jeremy can’t stand Chekhov. In one of the play’s funniest diatribes, he takes the Russian master to task for his ponderous plots, morose characters and florid dialogue. Still, Chrissy manages to convince him to make an effort: the words are supposed to be empty on the page. It’s up to the actors breathe life into them as they find the emotional truth of the scene. For Jeremy and newly-engaged Chrissy, that truth is an uncomfortable one. Like Trigorin and Nina, they are falling in love. Once the possessive Kate finds out about the new woman in Jeremy’s life, she ratchets up her tactics. No longer content to stay on her side of the consciousness line, she begins popping up unexpectedly in the real world as well. Even sleep brings scant from stress, as Jeremey’s reveries with Kate are increasingly disrupted by none other than the good Dr. Chekhov himself (Rik Walter). With his nerves in a state of emergency, our troubled protagonist must figure out a way simultaneously find an ending for his book, unearth the real meaning of the SEAGULL scene, and free himself from the seductive grip of his otherworldly lover’s icy fingers. That’s a hell of a to do list, and it’s no wonder he’s tempted to opt for oblivion instead. Luckily, both the subconscious and everyday worlds have a few more tricks up their respective sleeves.

Under Leslie Kincaid Burby’s thoroughgoing direction, the actors remain scrupulously devoted to Chekov’s admonition not to act, but to feel. Balancing disarming vulnerability with sharp comedic skills, Watkins provides the show with a solid emotional core. His understated intensity is adroitly counterbalanced by Ingrham’s cold allure and Stoiber’s winning spontaneity, as well the broader drollery of Ryan and Walter. They are given a fanciful and picturesque world to play in thanks to Scott Aronow’s protean set design, A. Christina Giannini’s opulent costumes, and Diana Duecker’s mood-enhancing lighting.

THE CHEKHOV DREAMS continues through Feb 17, 2018 at The Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, Between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York NY 10036.

Tickets: https:// http://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/The-Chekhov-Dreams/Overview?&aid=ven000193900