TECH SUPPORT

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Written & directed by Debra Whitfield

Remember Somewhere in Time, featuring Jane Seymour and the late Christopher Reeve at the peak of their talent and beauty? How about Time After Time, in which H.G. Wells falls in love with a forthright bank clerk while chasing Jack the Ripper across 1970s San Francisco? The once popular time-travel-meets-romance subgenre is due for a 21st Century reboot, and playwright/director Debra Whitfield is just the person to do it. Bringing a decidedly contemporary sensibility to her an era-hopping heroine search for fulfillment, Whitfield examines both our gadget-addicted society and the evolution of women’s rights over the past century.

TECH SUPPORT begins with scenario we’ve all found ourselves acting out at one time or another. Antique bookseller Pamela Stark (Margot White) having one of those days where absolutely all of her “smart” devices simply refuse to work. She calls tech support, but only succeeds in getting stuck in circuitous maze of automated option menus. When she finally reaches Chip (Ryan Avalos) she is overjoyed just to hear a human voice.  Opening up to Chip, Pam admits she feels nostalgic for a time “when going viral meant catching a communicable disease and trolls were just dolls with funny hair”. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. After accidentally pressing the wrong button  Pam enters a surreal swirl of digital imagery and finds herself, like a modern-day Dorothy, plopped into the center of an unfamiliar world.

The creatures she encounters here, though, are hardly munchkins. They’re just regular Americans in old-fashioned garb. Slowly Pamela comes realizes what’s happened. She’s in the same location, but the year is 1919. In this slower-paced milieu, people’s demeanor is far more hospitable and polite than what we’re used to in 2019. Yet the atmosphere is no less politically charged. Two energetic young ladies, Grace (Lauriel Friedman) and Maisie (Leanne Cabrera) are busy demonstrating in favor of a controversial new policy proposal: votes for women. Affable boarding house proprietor Charlie Blackwell (Mark Lotito) jokes about this new proposal, but seems fine with the fact that women’s suffrage has already passed in New York (the imminent  ban on alcohol is more irksome to Charlie). He’s actually a decent sort, old school views notwithstanding, and has seen his share of personal tragedy. Pamela takes him up on his offer of a job and a room, and for a moment it looks like she might just find contentment among these kindhearted villagers. Then along comes an unpleasant reminder of just how much those seemingly simpler times differed from ours. When unmarried Maisie finds out she’s pregnant by her boyfriend Chip (Avalos), her options look bleak, possibly even life-threatening. While attempting to counsel and comfort Maisie, Pamela inadvertantly activates the time machine again and…

She lands in 1946. The war is over and the American economy is booming. Women, who got out of the home and went to work while the men fought overseas, are feeling a new sense of power. Grace, older but no less vital, is rising rapidly in the political sphere. The demands of the job have taken their toll on her marriage to Charlie, but neither one wants to throw in the towel just yet. Pamela helps by taking a job on the campaign alongside Maisie’s son, Chip Junior (also Avalos). The two banter, flirt, go on dates and – uh oh! – fall in love. Panicked at the thought of that this inter-era romance can’t possibly work, Pamela jumps to disco-driven 1977. A more vocal form of feminism is now taking flight as embodied by ERA activists Lupe and Tori (Cabrera and Friedman) and the now famous Senator Grace Blackwell. But all is not well at campaign headquarters. Here the story enters It’s A Wonderful Life territory as Pam confronts the aging Chip, Jr., clearly a man whose destiny would have been different his one true love hadn’t chosen to time-jump out of his life at the worst possible moment. Pam is faced with a dilemma. Should she chronoport to 2020 and let the whole escapade vanish like a dream? Or go back and fix the midcentury mess she left behind? This time Tech Support can’t help. Pamela will have to silence her electronics and listen to that still, small voice inside.

Both in her script and direction, Whitfield wrings laughs and tenderness out of the culture clash between her FOMO-driven protagonist and the practitioners of a more thoughtfully-paced way of life. The cast, anchored by White’s endearing Pamela, bring warmth and wit to their sociological and personal arcs. The story’s journey through history is made colorful and convincing by the well-researched and visually appealing achievements of the gifted design team.  To be sure, there are a few puzzling aspects of TECH SUPPORTS’s take on American history. For example, the only time men we see men getting handsy or inappropriate with their female colleagues is in the supposedly more liberated Seventies. Perhaps there’s something to be said for the notion that something of chivalry and courtship was lost as greater equality was gained, as journalist Kay Hymowitz and others have posited. But we don’t get as much exploration here as the topic deserves. This minor complaint aside, though, TECH SUPPORT does a marvelous job of delivering a much-needed reminder that, regardless of the times, the human heart is the only smart device any of us really need. Or, as H.G. Wells declares in Time After Time “Every age is the same. It’s only love that makes any of them bearable.”

Scenic Design ……………………………..Natalie Taylor Hart
Costume Design …………………………Janice O’Donnell
Lighting Design ………………………….Deborah Constantine
Sound Design ……………………………..Ed Matthew
Sound Design Consultant …………..Carlene Stober
Projection Design ……………………….Elliott Forrest
Hair & Make-up Design ………………Inga Thrasher
Prop Master ………………………………..Cyrus Newitt
Dramaturge …………………………………Benjamin Viertel
Casting ………………………………………..Stephanie Klapper, CSA

Photo credit: Russ Rowland

TECH SUPPORT continues through Sept 21, 2019 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Park & Madison Avenues, New York, New York. Tickets: http://www.59e59.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SQUARE GO

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Written by Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair
Directed by Finn den Hertog

Concise, energetic and comically peppered with the syncopations of Scottish teen speak, Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair’s clever two-hander offers a fresh take on the well-travelled territory of adolescent tribulations.

The action takes place a boy’s room at Hammerston High, a ferociously average school somewhere in generic suburbia. Here, teenager Mark Adrian Kyle Sebastian Brocklehurst (Daniel Portman), who understandably prefers to be called Max, imagines a cheering crowd of adoring fans as he delivers a victory speech in the style of his hero, pro wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage. The daydream is, of course, a coping mechanism. In real life, Max’s prospects are not so bright. He has been challenged to a “square go”, a mano a mano fight wherein two boys – no weapons, bare hands – duke it out to see who is the better man. Max is, understandably, petrified. His opponent is none other than Danny Guthrie (offstage), known throughout the school as “A beast. A legend. A man mountain”, who can make mincemeat out of any opponent. Max’s strawberry lace-munching best friend and ring man Stevie Nimmo (Gavin Jon Wright), tries to psych him up for the fight, but never misses an opportunity to send a bit of insult comedy (or “pish” to use the colloquial term). While the clock ticks ever closer to game time, Max and Stevie break the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience, and sometimes encouraging us to participate in the show. Over the course of a whirring 65 minutes, the boys overflow with pubescent zeal as they morph into stuffy physics teacher Dr. Hobbins, school bully Big Jordan, and other key figures, real and imaginary, in their small town lives. As they reconstruct the faux pas that got Max in trouble in the first place, darker shades of the story emerge. It turns out Danny Guthrie is punching back at a world that discriminated against someone he loved, that Max’s need for fantasy is fueled by the dysfunction in his household. All the while, the big confrontation beckons, but an unexpected twist beckons Max and Stevie to take their first steps into a bigger, more daunting proving ground.

Director Finn den Hertog uses the intimate three-quarter round stage to great effect, balancing Wright’s frenetic footwork with Portman’s restless strategizing as in an evenly-matched prizefight. Peter Small’s lighting design is timed to neatly coincide with the script’s one-liners and turns of mood, while Martha Mamo’s props capture both the mundane and fanciful trappings of adolescence. None of it work, of course, without the remarkable rapport between the two actors. Portman and Wright embody the very essence of the disappointments, frictions, laughter and closeness of two outcasts whose mutual misfitness forms the basis of intense- and possibly enduring – friendship.

SQUARE GO continues through June 30, 2019 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022. Tickets https://www.59e59.org/ticket-information/

CAROLINE’S KITCHEN

6i29M-jYWritten by Torben Betts
Directed by Alastair Whatley

Like the gourmet dishes prepared by the show’s eponymous chef, farce is that is notoriously tricky to get right. The perfect  blend of theatrical exaggeration with a soupcon of realism makes a wild plot plausible and engages the audience in the exploits of a larger-than-life characters. Overdo it, and you end up with over-the-top buffoonery. Go too far in the direction of  raw naturalism and the unique flavor of the genre gets lost. Sorry to say, while there are many fine ingredients in Torben Betts’ mashup of media satire and domestic mayhem, they don’t quite coalesce into a fully satisfying banquet of comedic comestibles.

Something like a UK edition of Martha Stewart, TV chef Caroline Mortimer (Caroline Langrishe) is celebrated for her flawless culinary skills and morally upright character. But her millions of adoring fans are in for a rude awakening when they see the photos a tabloid paper is threatening to publish. Caroline, it turns out, has a penchant for booze, and some cunning paparazzo has captured her losing her decorum on a night out with friends. Caroline’s fast-talking assistant Amanda (Jasmyn Banks) says the pictures aren’t “career ending”, but it’s enough to rattle Caroline (and, of course send her back to the bottle). And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Public image damage control is one thing: hiding an extramarital affair is another. Caroline and handyman Graeme (James Sutton), are carrying a clandestine relationship – no easy task in a house filled with video crew members – and if Caroline’s blowhard husband Mike (Aden Gillett) were to pick up the scent, things could get ugly. Luckily, he’s too busy tippling, flirting with younger women, and reliving his afternoon at the golf course, to take much notice of his wife (clearly that’s one reason she’s been seeking attention elsewhere). Graeme’s unstable wife Sally (Elizabeth Boag) is a different story. She’s on to her husband’s infidelity and is not to be trusted in Caroline’s kitchen, where freshly honed cutlery is close at hand. While all these tensions are simmering, Mike and Caroline’s son, newly graduated from Cambridge, comes home ready to drop a few bombshells of his own. Oh, and a real estate agent is coming over to look at the house— that is, if the premises isn’t already reduced to ash by the flames Caroline has forgotten to turn off in the kitchen.

The cast is full of fine actors, and director Alastair Whatley, aided by the ground plan of James Perkins’s neatly constructed set, manages the play’s cavalcade of entrances and exits with a sure hand. But the show, unfortunately abounds with missed opportunities. For example, there’s a good amount of setup in the first scene regarding the use of the Mortimer household as a set for the show: Caroline’s Kitchen, we’re told, is actually shot in Caroline’s kitchen. It appears that Betts is building to a big finale, in which the celebrity homemaker’s life falls apart on the air.  Yet for some reason, the cameras never arrive. Similarly, we learn that Caroline’s drunkenness is enough to set the muckraking  media ablaze, prompting the expectation that we’re going to see some real sordidness as she nips her way through the evening. Yet outside of a few slurred words, little mayhem results for her growing intoxication. Even the overall tone of the show, for all its mad events, seems oddly subdued– until, about a third of the way through, Mike Mortimer shows up. Of all the characters, Mike feels the most fully realized, perhaps because, as an old white man, he’s an acceptable target for ridicule. Both in Gillen’s freewheeling performance and in his volatile rhetoric (macho bombast one moment, crippling fear of mortality the next), Mike is simultaneously over-the-top and comically, recognizably human. If the same balance could be struck with the other characters, a visit to CAROLINE’S KITCHEN might leave the audience feeling more satiated.

CAROLINE’S KITCHEN continues through May 25, 2019 at 59E59 theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: http://www.59e59.org.

I CARRY YOUR HEART

Written by Georgette Kelly
Directed by Cate Caplin

With uneven, if sometimes moving results, Georgette Kelly’s new drama tracks both the literal and metaphorical journey of a human heart as it leaves one body to give life to another.

An ethereal presence now, noted author Debra Wilder (Dey Young) continues hovering around the world of the living as she prepares for the afterlife. Her estranged daughter Phoebe (Rebi Paganini), hears her mother’s voice as she peruses a manuscript Debra has left for her. The story tells of Debra’s wild years, hitchhiking to Woodstock and living the expat life in Morocco, where Phoebe was conceived. This is the closest Phoebe has ever gotten to truly understanding her mother; the two never got to say goodbye as Debra was already brain dead by the time Phoebe arrived at the medical center. The recipient of Debra’s donated heart is Tess (Dana Scurlock), who recoups in a hospital bed while her bossy-but-caring wife Lydia (Nicole Paloma Sarro) and gentle son Josh (John Anthony Torres) cross their fingers and hope the operation is a success. Debra’s spirit also plays visits to Tess’s bedside, suggesting that she cope with her conflicting emotions by doing something she’s never attempted before: writing.

Complications, both medical and emotional, arise as Phoebe begins an affair with Blake (Nico Piccardo), a sociable young doctor she meets in the hospital waiting room (who also happens to be one of Tess’s physicians). Meanwhile, Tess body begins rejecting the transplanted organ, causing Lydia to freak out and prompting an emergency return to the medical center. Phoebe has her own struggles, as she must step out from her mom’s shadow, find her own voice as a writer, poet, and stop sabotaging her potentially happy relationship with Blake. Eventually, though, Tess does decide to take a chance and start putting her thoughts down on paper. Much to the satisfaction of the phantasmal Debra, the written word becomes the agent of change.

I CARRY YOUR HEART is a tight evening of theater that largely works well. Director Cate Caplin uses the theater’s intimate space skillfully and draws moving performances from a charismatic cast. But the story – ironically enough, given its subject – missing from its center. Phoebe is quick to indict her mother, complaining that she “went away”. True, writers sometimes need to spend time apart from their families in order to meet the demands of the craft. That may have been tough for Phoebe as child, but as an adult it seems odd that she’s so loath to acknowledge her mother’s dedication.With zero help from Phoebe’s father, Debra used her gifts to provide for her family. Had she been an attorney or CEO, she still would have had to serve the two masters of career and family. There’s clearly more to the mother-daughter dynamic here, some reason why they didn’t talk for two years, than what Kelly shows us in this draft of the script. She would do well to consider rendering the parent-child relationship in sharper detail.

I CARRY YOUR HEART continues through April 14, 2019 at 59E59 theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, New York. Tickets: http://www.59e59.org.

AFTER

Written by Michael McKeever
Directed by Joe Brancato

It’s an all-too-familiar pattern. A senseless act of violence claims the lives of innocent people. Reporters swarm the scene, pundits burnish their best expressions of deep concern as panel discussions dominate the airwaves, politicians bluster about gun regulation, vigils are held for the fallen. And then, with little fanfare, the whole event passes out of the news cycle as some new atrocity or scandal captures the media’s attention. What we rarely see is the private suffering, the unthinkable burden that must be carried by the families of both victims and perpetrators in the wake of a tragedy. With remarkable psychological insight, Michael McKeever takes a bold and compassionate look at the private hell behind the headlines.

AFTER takes place in the type of community that, until recently, would never have been thought of as a dangerous place to raise kids. Brian Prather’s stately set tells us that the people to who to whom this living room belongs are affluent but not ostentatious, proud but reserved, people accustomed to a certain degree of security and continuity. Tellingly, the decor includes a hunting trophy and a collection of antique rifles. But the effect isn’t meant to be menacing. It’s all part of a country squire ambience cultivated by dashing, prosperous Tate Campbell (Michael Frederic) and his trim, fashionable wife Julia (Mia Matthews). The two stand out in contrast to their reluctant visitors, Alan and Connie Beckman (Bill Phillips and Denise Cormier), whose prim respectability tells us they are well-off enough to live in suburbia, but don’t go in for top-salon hairstyles and designer duds (Gregory Gale’s meticulously detailed costumes are character studies in themselves). Class tension remains an undercurrent in the dynamic between the two couples, but the tension in the room is caused by something far more urgent. Kyle, the Campbell’s teenage son, has sent a troubling text message to the Beckman’s boy Matthew. Though Matthew himself wanted nothing to do with it, Connie and Alan, having accidentally seen the text, felt compelled to notify the high school principal. This could mean suspension for Kyle. Depending on one’s point of view, the text could constitute or real threat or, as Tate believes, just a case of standard, if stupid, teen behavior.

Friends for years, the Campbells and Beckmans are loath to enter into a confrontation, but something must be done. Despite the presence of Julia’s level-headed sister Val (Jolie Curtsinger), the ensuing debate burns away a the characters’ veneer of civility, and repressed aggressions bubble to the surface. Leaving the husbands out of it this time, the women attempt to patch things up. Their efforts are stalled by Connie’s prickliness and Julia’s indignation at being judged. Nevertheless, they seem to be edging toward common ground, united by a deep concern for the welfare of their kids. Then, with one sudden phone call, the life they once knew is suddenly blown apart. In the play’s devastating last act, the parents must reconcile themselves to the truth of what has happened to their children. Their worst fears have been realized, but not in away that anyone could have predicted. The text was only the tip of the iceberg, and none of the adults had any idea of the unrelenting hell their children were living in. Neither side can claim a moral victory, and both the interventionist Beckmans and the laissez-faire Campbells are unable to comprehend how their parenting styles – however imperfect – could have led to this.

Similar in premise to Yasmina Reza’s GOD OF CARNAGE (though far more powerful), McKeever’s script adroitly builds tension and seamlessly braids exposition with argument. Under Joe Brancato’s taut direction, the cast accomplishes the challenging feat of being deeply in sync as actors while playing characters who can’t get on the same page. The production is mercifully free of tearful ostentation and big epiphanies. In fact, the very lack of a catharsis drives home the starkness of the situation. For these shattered characters, heartbreak can never be purged, only borne in endless silence.   

AFTER continues through April 14, 2019, at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues. Tickets: www.59e59.org/shows

IMAGINING MADOFF

Written by Deb Margolin
Directed by Jerry Heymann

When Bernard Madoff was arrested in 2008, the very DNA of the financial system was called into question. The sheer volume of the scam was staggering. Billions of dollars had gone AWOL, thousands of lives were shattered. And all the while, our trusted regulatory agencies had ignored the red flags and questionable math that characterized Madoff’s bogus business transactions. The entire world was shaken by the aftershocks of the scandal, but in Jewish circles, the Madoff debacle took on an even deeper significance. Fears arose that the image of the Ponzi schemer would be used validate antisemitic stereotypes of greedy, conniving Hebrews, and that Jews, historically a popular target of conspiracy theories, would be scapegoated for the Great Recession. More painfully still, many of Madoff’s targets were themselves Jewish, and even charitable institutions like Hadassah were plundered without mercy. Jews who had invested with Madoff were hit with a double whammy: not only did they suffer grievous monetary losses, but had to also cope with the unthinkability of being betrayed by one of their own. The police term for this phenomenon is “affinity fraud”: a category of chicanery in which a con artist uses his cultural, religious or ethnic identity to gain entrée into a specific community, as Madoff did among the well-to-do Jewry of New York City and Palm Beach.

In the aptly titled IMAGINING MADOFF, playwright Deb Margolin muses on what may have transpired between Bernie (Jeremiah Kissel) and one of his high-profile victims, the fictional poet Solomon Galkin (Gerry Bamman). Reminiscent of the late Elie Wiesel, whose private holdings and non-profit foundation were devastated by Madoff’s treachery, Galkin is a Talmudic scholar and a Holocaust survivor. The essence of piousness and generosity, he seeks only to do good in the world. At first, he would seem to have nothing much in common with Bernard. Yet the two enjoy talking and drinking, pondering the nature of the universe and what the Torah says about humanity’s role in it. Each man is subtly maneuvering the other. Sol seeks to enlighten his spiritually undernourished friend, while the fraudulent financier uses a hard-to-get seduction strategy, knowing that the idea of an “exclusive” investment club will whet Solomon’s appetite. For a moment, it seems as if Galkin may win the battle for Madoff’s soul after all. When he winds his tefillin around Bernie’s wrist, something odd happens. A “small perfect pain” enters Madoff’s head, as if the ancient traditions are awakening some long dormant godliness within. In the end though, Madoff returns to his old habits.  He worships no god other than money, and the sacrifices it demands of him are as severe any in the Old Testament.

In between the scenes with Galkin, there are short monologues in which post-conviction Madoff, confined to a prison cell, justifies his actions to an unseen reporter. The action also shifts now and then to a courtroom, where Madoff’s secretary (Jenny Allen), seems credible as she testifies that nothing usual seemed to be going on at the office. She, too, struggles to find a moral center in a world where, merely by telling the truth, she may be defending a monster.

All three actors deliver solid performances, with Bamman’s plummy European baritone providing an effective foil for Kissel’s staccato New Yorkese. Margolin gives them plenty to work with, and the rhythm and intelligence of her dialogue keeps the audience engaged in the Galkin-Madoff relationship even though we already know the outcome.

Unfortunately, the script – though never boring – stops short of exploring some of the tougher truths of the Madoff scandal. Questions linger as to why so many of Madoff’s marks failed to look under the hood, why they chose to hand over their life savings rather than pursue a more conservative investment strategy. Perhaps Madoff seemed like the right kind of capitalist: a classically American (and classically Jewish) example of a man of humble origins rose to the top through hard work and smart maneuvering. Or was it those the lure of easy profits, the ego boost of being on the winning side, that kept his investors on the hook? Could there be a touch of avarice in all of us, even a man like Galkin? It’s understandable that Margolin didn’t want to blame the victim. But it might have been a stronger choice to fully render the duo as a yin and yang design: A quintessentially righteous man as the mirror image of a starkly immoral man, each containing a touch of its opposite.

Interestingly enough, the state with the highest per capita incidence of affinity fraud is not New York or Florida, but Mormon-heavy Utah. Yes, the Jewishness of the Madoff Experience is one of its salient features. But dramatizing its details also serves as a reminder that, in these morally muddy times, no one is same from ganeffs.

IMAGINING MADOFF continues through March 23, 2019 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY, between Park and Madison Avenues. Tickets: https://www.59e59.org

GOODBODY

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Written by J.C. Ernst
Directed by Melissa Firlit

A soupçon of Sam Shepherd, a sprinkling of Tarantino, a touch of Grand Guignol and a generous dollop of Martin McDonough: these are some of the many ingredients that make up the oddball world of The Crook Theater Company’s new spin on the heist-gone-wrong subgenre. Make no mistake, though. Joseph C. Ernst’s script (remarkably, his first) tosses some original flavors l into the mix as well. The result is not for the faint of heart, but for audiences who enjoy hanging out at the corner of Crime Drama Boulevard and Theater of the Absurd Street, GOODBODY provides a satisfying evening of suspense, dark humor and wild twists.

In a remote barn house somewhere in upstate New York, low level gangster Spencer (Raife Baker) finds himself staring at the business end of a loaded pistol.  The weapon is held by Marla (Amanda Sykes), a seductive amnesiac who is somehow mixed up in whatever debacle just went down. Bound to a chair and badly beaten up, Spencer has only his words to get him out of this situation. A quick thinker, he manages avoid execution. But his troubles are far from over. For starters, there’s a dead body in the corner. It seems that Marla, who has no memory of the incident, has just killed Burt O’Leary, one of two brothers who run the New York crime syndicate that employs both Spencer and his corrupt cop Charlie Aimes (Alex Morf), who’s known Spencer since childhood. As Aimes and Spencer try to piece together what just happened,  a picture emerges: Taking sibling rivalry to violent extremes, Burt has been muscling in on the illegal gambling enterprise run by his brother Chance (Dustin Charles). The resulting turf war forces Spencer and Aimes to side with one brother over the other.  It’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-do situation, not helped by the trigger-happy shenanigans of volatile interloper Marla. And when Chance, know for his “ultra violent tendencies” walks through the door, it’s a safe bet things are only going to get uglier from here. I won’t spoil the finale by telling you whether Chance or Marla turns out to be the bigger psychopath. Suffice it to say that viewers who crave explosive endings won’t be disappointed.

Sykes is both cuddly and terrifying as the unpredictable Marla, while Charles exudes quiet menace as a kingpin in danger of losing his empire. Morf and Baker pick up on each other’s cues with expert timing, turning their characters into a kind of underworld Abbot and Costello. Ernst and director Melissa Firlit smartly start the play in the middle of the action, trusting the audience to catch up on the back story as more and more details come to light. Exposition is entertainingly interwoven with comic tension as smooth Spencer and anxious Aimes carry on the cool-dude-vs-loser dynamic they’ve been acting out since grade school.

There are a few areas where the show could benefit from further development. Chance’s big entrance veers dangerously close to a gangster film cliché and could use more of the eccentric spin that enlivens the earlier scenes. And Marla, at times, seems a little too conveniently crazy. Understanding the method in her madness might make her even more compelling.  These, however, are minor complaints. Over all, GOODBODY more than lives up to Crook’s stated promise to deliver “inspiringly ambitious and criminally surprising work”.

GOODBODY continues through November 4, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street,  between Madison and Park Avenues. Tickets: 646-892-7999.

SUMMER SHORTS, SERIES B

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Written by Neil LaBute, Eric Lane and Claire Zajdel
Directed by Terry Berliner,  J.J. Kandel and James Rees

After an uneven Series A, SUMMER SHORTS is back on track with a trio of solidly crafted and adventurous entries.

At first the two siblings at the center of Claire Zajdel’s THE PLOT appear to be polar opposites. Frankie (Molly Groome) is a first-year associate in a prestigious law firm who dresses in crisply tailored business attire. Her brother Tyler (Jake Robinson), an IT freelancer, works at his own pace and favors the tech dude’s uniform of loose jeans and a flannel shirt. As the story develops, though, it turns out brother and sister have more in common than appearances would suggest. For one thing, their loving but controlling mom still exerts a potent influence on both their lives. On this particular day, Mom has asked the kids to meet her in a local cemetery to view the new headstone she’s picked out. She has also reserved spots for Tyler and Frankie in the family plot. Clearly Mom is thinks it’s appropriate not only to micromanage her offspring’s lives, but their afterlives as well. Rivalries mingle with affection as the siblings negotiate over whether to let Mom her have her way. Groome, to great comic effect, portrays Frankie as a text book approval seeker who, despite Doing Everything Perfectly, feels that parental validation is perpetually out of reach. Robinson provides her with an apt foil as the maddeningly mellow bro whose go-with-the-flow mentality, ironically, helps ingratiate him to Mom. Though THE PLOT could use a more satisfying finale, its characters are so endearing, their issues so relatable, that a stroll around the graveyard with them proves an enjoyable experience.

IBIS, by Eric Lane, weaves an intriguing tapestry out of the traditions of film noir and naturalistic family drama. Tyrone Martin (Deandre Sevon) has always wondered what happened to his father. Dad left when Tyrone was little, leaving nothing unanswered questions behind. To aid him in his quests, Tyrone engages the service of private detective Sam Spade (Lindsey Broad). Sam claims to have never heard of Humphrey Bogart, but, as in any good mystery, things are not what they seem. As Sam reveals her real name and (somewhat) true story, Tyrone becomes more comfortable sharing what few details he remembers of his father and discussing the coping mechanisms he employed to get through a confusing childhood. As it turns out, Victor Martin (Harold Surratt), is hiding in plain sight. But Tyrone still has a tough road ahead of him. After all these years, father and son seem to have little in common. Yet again, though, appearances prove deceiving. Lane’s dialogue takes a surprisingly lyrical turn in the final scene, which is played with moving honesty by Sevon and Surratt. Greg MacPherson’s moody lighting and Nick Moore’s sound design give the piece a Billy Wilderesque dark elegance.

Neil LaBute’s SPARRING PARTNER centers on an emotional affair between two coworkers. Stealing and extra few minutes before returning to the office, Woman (Joanna Christie) and Man (Keilyn Durrel Jones) linger on a park bench after a takeout lunch. Giddy with the joy of each other’s company, they engage in a movie trivia game (name a film that in which, say, Meryl Streep and Robert Deniro both appear). Woman keeps winning, which only makes Man admire her more. But when it comes to matters of the heart, Woman can’t help but feel like she’s on the losing side. Man, after all, has a wife back home, and though he admits the marriage is a failure, he doesn’t seem ready to call it quits. Soon their idyll is shadowed by questions. What do all these balmy afternoons spent playing trivia games and dancing to Paolo Conte songs really mean to him? Is he really in love with Woman or is he merely trying to recapture the spontaneity and innocence of new love: things that inevitably diminish with time even in the strongest of long term relationships. And is Woman content with stolen moments of happiness? Or is it time to set some boundaries, to insist that there be no more games unless the ante includes commitment? Exercising a light touch, LaBute doesn’t provide easy answers, preferring to let the audience speculate as to how things will turn out. The only certainty is that nothing will change without pain. Jones and Christie, natural in their movements and pure in their emotions, make the plight of their characters reverberate long after the curtain call.

SUMMER SHORTS SERIES A continues through September 1, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters at 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, New York. https://www.ticketcentral.com.

SUMMER SHORTS SERIES A

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Written by Robert O’Hara, Abby Rosebrock and Chris Bohjalian
Directed by Robert O’Hara, Jess Chayes and Alexander Dinelaris

In terms of production values, this year’s first round of SUMMER SHORTS has achieved a new level of technical smoothness. Rebecca Lord-Surrat’s sets, Greg MacPherson’s lighting, and Amy Sutton’s costume design combine to give the show a painterly richness, while Nick Moore’s sound design is so realistic that the sound effect of a snore had people looking around the theater to see who in the audience had dozed off. Scriptwise, though, SERIES A doesn’t offer as strong a selection as in previous years. While all of the show’s three pieces sport provocative premises, none of them quite feel fully realized.

THE LIVING ROOM: A SATIRE, written and directed by Robert O’Hara, at first appears to be a nice two-hander about an ordinary couple spending a casual evening in front of the television set. But soon we learn that Frank (Joel Reuben Ganz) and Judy (Kate Buddeke) are actually aware that they are characters in a play. They seem frightened of their creator, uncertain of what he might inflict on them next, and eager to share their anxiety with the audience. Race plays a part in the proceedings: Frank and Judy keep referring to themselves as the last two Caucasoids on Earth, and flashing back to some apocalyptic era when they were held captive and forced to procreate under the watchful eye of a totalitarian (presumably non-white) regime.  The play’s Pirandellian conceit is put to its best use when commenting on the playwright’s creative process. Has he birthed Frank and Judy merely because a living room play about a white couple has a decent shot at getting produced? Or is using his characters to sort out some personal quandary? Unfortunately, O’Hara takes a discursive approach to his narrative and seems uncertain of his targets. While the play introduces a number of intriguing themes, it’s a few drafts away from delivering the pasquinade its title promises.

KENNY’S TAVERN, written by Abby Rosebrock, takes place a downscale tavern in the tense autumn days leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Laura (Francesca Fernandez McKenzie) teaches at a progressive in school in North Carolina. The irony of working at a “magnet school” isn’t lost on Laura, who feels stuck, like an iron filing, to an untenable situation. She and her mentor Ryan (Stephen Guarino) have feelings for each other that are rapidly moving past platonic. But Ryan is married, and Laura fears that the only solution is for her to leave her present situation. If she abandons her post though, she will turn her back on a promising career as well as depriving her students of the help and inspiration she excells at providing. While Ryan and Laura struggle to untangle their predicament, waitress Jaelyn (Mariah Lee) laments her own disappointing existence. A working-class teen, she has tried on several occasions to increase her upward mobility by gaining acceptance to the magnet school: all to no avail. Laura is quick to remind the young woman that she cursed, complained and otherwise sabotaged herself during her interviews. Their conversation is the Great American Cultural Divide in miniature. Red-staters feel that the political elite won’t listen to them. Liberals, seeing only hate speech and boorish behavior on the right, are loath to reach across the aisle. Common ground seems to be disappearing faster than a polar ice cap. TAVERN has its share of lulls and could to with some trimming, but Rosbrock’s confident style and blending of the personal with the political make it the strongest entry of the evening.

In Chris Bohjalian’s GROUNDED, aviophobic Emily (Grace Experience) takes to the skies to in an effort to overcome her fear of moving forward with her life. Older and wiser flight attendant Karen (K.K. Glick) enjoys hazing her young protégé, but clearly has her best interests at heart. As the two prep for the flight, their converation goes from chatty to confessional. Emily reveals that, after a post-college stint as a barista, she changed careers on the advice of her life coach, Vladimir. Karen suspects there’s more to this picture, and her hunch is confirmed when Emily divulges the discomfiting fact that her relationship with Vladimir, a family friend, was more than just professional. They were having sex, starting when Emily was under age. Karen prompts the young woman to indict her statutory rapist, but Emily fears the collateral damage that might follow. Emily’s parents, Vlad’s wife and kids, would all undeservedly have their lives turned upside down. Still, Emily must find some way to claim her emotional baggage, and with Karen’s help she may be able restore her self-worth to its upright position. The piece has a solid arc, and offers timely insight into some of the reasons why victims of sexual abuse can be reluctant to come forward. Much of the dialogue, however, centers on events that have happened offstage. More emphasis on the present-tense tension between the seasoned pro and the eager novice would help lift the story off the ground.

SUMMER SHORTS SERIES A continues through September 1, 2018 at 59E59 Theaters at 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, New York, New York. https://www.ticketcentral.com.

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