THE EGG PROGECT

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Written by Mike Amato

Directed by Andrea Andresakis

The press release for THE EGG PROGECT describes the play as being inspired by the works of Edward Albee. Indeed, the show has a number of Albee-esque elements: the return of if a prodigal child, the use of a quartet composed of an older couple and a young one, the malignity lurking beneath the respectable veneer of the middle class. But with its weird-science premise and twist ending, Mike Amato’s macabre romp has more in common with a vintage Roald Dahl short story.

After a 15-year absence, Marty (Amato) returns to the lake house of his childhood. His parents are happy to know that he’s alive after having heard rumors to the contrary. Marty’s mother Barbara (Melissa Eddy Quilty) is a domineering matriarch who makes a highly symbolic hobby of sculpting a perfect likeness of her son. Marty’s dad Robert (Gary Ray) is a kind of absent minded professor, perpetually tinkering with old cars and crazy inventions in his backyard lab. Given the meddlesome nature of both parents, it’s not surprising that Marty has stayed away for so long. But does he really have the maturity to stand on his own?  His fiancée Leslie (Monica Wyche), a successful media personality, has literally constructed a new identity for him: one that Barbara feels honor-bound to challenge. While the women play tug-of-war, Robert reveals the big “surprise” he has planned for Marty. His shockingly successful foray into genetics threatens not only Marty and Leslie’s happiness, but the very nature of reproduction as we know it. In effect an immaculate conception, Robert’s creature raises all manner of questions for his Catholic family. More enmeshed than ever in the clan’s dysfunctional dynamic, Marty must makes a fateful decision.

The action slows a bit in the play’s second half, as a few rambling soliloquies go on longer than is necessary. When the plot resumes, though, the evening moves entertainingly to its grimly comic denouement. Ray endows Robert with comic sincerity, cluelessly letting his good intentions obfuscate the cataclysmic consequences of his actions. Quilty exudes coiled viciousness as the tigress on whose territory Leslie has little hope of trespassing safely. Amato’s neurotic Marty proves an apt counterpart to Wyche’s empowerment-preaching Leslie. Director Andrea Andresakis keeps the cues crisp and makes adroit use of the Teatro SEA’s intimate space. With a bit of trimming, THE EGG PROGECT would be a more satisfying ride, but its combination of wild incident with solid dramatic structure is nonetheless enjoyable.

THE EGG PROGECT continues through August 30 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente
107 Suffolk Street, NYC – between Rivington & Delancey
. Tickets: http://fringenyc.org/resources/buying-tickets/

LAST NIGHT AT THE CARMINE

Last Night at the Carmine

Written and directed by Caroline Kelly Franklin

Though it goes astray at times, Caroline Kelly Franklin’s mosaic of linked vignettes has its heart in the right place, and many of its off-beat exchanges are affecting and funny.

The intertwining stories concern the habitués, staff and proprietors of a decades-old bar that is forced by gentrification to finally close as its doors. Owners Thompson (Dennis Dmitry) and Frank (Sam Charny), decide not to tell their employees about their decision to close the Carmine, but the denizens of the pub all seem to sense a change in the atmosphere. Relationship dynamics shift as truths are revealed and old coping mechanisms collapse. The duets include a teacher and student (Greg Bell and Caroline Kelly Franklin), a bartender and patron (Clint Tate and Samantha Shane), two best buds (Stephen Simeon and Cory Haynes), and the women who grudgingly love them (Rocky Vega and Whitney St.Ours). In the freshest and most moving encounter, a solitary young man (Derek Long) recalls miraculously surviving a serious childhood disease only to discover that life doesn’t seem worth living. His chance meeting with a quirky neighborhood kid (Hannah Seusy) changes both their perspectives.

There are a few beats that feel overly expository. Thompson and Frank seem to relive past history for the audience’s benefit, rather than sharing the shorthand typical of people who have known each other intimately for decades. Similarly, the scene between the two male friends is sensitively written, but directed with a puzzling amount of screaming and twitching that doesn’t support the material. For the most part, though the ensemble is spot on and the situations are handled with empathy and wit. Franklin has an ear for the miscommunications that hobble intimacy and the rhythms of a changing urban landscape. It will be interesting to see how her talent develops.

LAST NIGHT AT THE CARMINE continues through August 28, 2015 at the Robert Moss Theater. 440 Lafayette Street, New York, New York. Tickets: Fringenyc.org

AMAZING GRACE

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Book by Christopher Smith & Arthur Giron

Music and lyrics by Christopher Smith

Directed by Gabriel Barre

AMAZING GRACE has almost all the ingredients it needs to be a topnotch show: high seas adventure, romance, historic content, a humanistic message and a feel-good ending. The one thing it lacks is a strong marriage between music and story. Far too often the insertion of songs into the narrative feels arbitrary rather than essential. The result is something of a mixed bag: It doesn’t quite gel as a musical, but the show’s narrative energy, talented cast and epic production values make it enjoyable evening regardless.

Thomas (Chuck Cooper), narrates the story of his friend and former master John Newton (Josh Young). Itching for adventure, young John goes out to sea. This does not sit well with his stern father, Captain Newton (Tom Hewitt), who has a more staid life in mind for his son. John persists in his pursuits, soon becoming a player in the profitable slave trade. His childhood friend Mary Catlett (Erin Mackey), is appalled at the sight of human beings sold like animals, and reaches out to help an escaped slave after activist attack the auction site. Mary senses that something big is happening, and over the protestations of her house slave Nanna (Laiona Michelle), she begins flirting with the burgeoning abolitionist movement. As her antislavery convictions solidify, John’s propensity for drunken rudeness worsens. Rival suitor Major Archibald Grey (Chris Hoch) takes advantage of the rift between John and Mary, and his chances look brighter still when John is waylaid by sailors and forced to serve on a slave ship as an ordinary seaman. Captain Newton refuses to intervene on his son’s behalf, although John is allowed to bring Thomas along as a fellow seaman. Insubordination is not tolerated aboard the ship, and John soon finds out what flogging feels like. In a brilliantly staged sequence, a storm at sea topples the vessel, and Thomas and John are plunged into the depths of the ocean. They survive the wreck, but are held captive in West Africa by Princess Peyai (Harriet D. Foy), a sinister collaborator who callously sells her own people into bondage. After experiencing life as a slave, Newton sees the system through different eyes and seeks to free the very people he once oppressed. Meanwhile, back in Europe, Mary speaks truth to power in an effort to end the slave trade once and for all. Many more obstacles exist, but both Mary and John are emboldened by their newfound convictions and they unite in their struggle to smash the shackles of slavery once and for all.

This gripping (if melodramatic) narrative is given epic visual panache by Gabriel Barre’s bold direction and the lavish achievements of the gifted design and effects teams. All of the performances are solid: Young and Mackey both have clear, impassioned voices, and are adept at capturing the internal conflicts as well as the youthful impulsivity of their characters. Led by the always-stellar Cooper, the supporting cast gives depth and power to the arc of the story. Unfortunately, though, their efforts aren’t consistently matched by the score. There are a few strong entries, such as Thomas’s powerful “Nowhere Left to Run” and an ironic patter song in which the pompous Major Grey extols the virtues of propriety while ruthlessly engineering his next conquest. Most of the ballads, though, feel generic and fail to move the story forward or to tell us much that we don’t already know about the characters. Make no mistake, AMAZING GRACE is worth the price of admission in spite of its flaws, and is certainly recommended for parents looking for something on Broadway that’s appropriate for kids and offers both substance and spectacle. But audiences should go in with the right expectations: you’ll walk out enlightened, but not humming.