“ Hope” is the thing with feathers -/That perches in the soul -/ And sings the tune without the words -/And never stops – at all -…” Emily Dickinson
Anna (Alexa Shae Niziak), a precocious 16 year-old, is distractedly finishing her Emily Dickinson paper while face-timing with Internet friend Eric (Zachary Booth) on her laptop. They’ve never met. It’s clear he appreciates her. She likes him. “I think it’s good,” he says referring to what she’s written so far. “I think you are good.” “Oh no, I’m a bad girl,” Anna responds…”I eat pizza for breakfast…” That ‘s the way this teenager’s mind works.
Eric, it turns out, is considerably older …and wants to meet up despite living 900 miles away. Anna is flattered, but knows better and shies. He’s a stranger. The premise is familiar. We’re wary.
Alexa Shae Niziak
Mother Beth (DeAnna Lenhart), a real estate agent, is raising Anna alone. The two have a warm, respectful relationship. Because of the divorce, Beth is hesitant to marry Tim (Robert Manning Jr.), her straight arrow cop boyfriend of several years. Anna is comfortable with Tim and encourages the match. Conversation is easy, credible, and well played. Having overheard her daughter, Beth asks to whom Anna was speaking and learns about Eric. She strongly recommends her daughter cut off communication.
Eric appears at Anna’s door without notice. (It’s possible to find anyone these days.) He’s driven all the way to Amherst with a birthday gift. She’s shocked and cautious, but lets him in. The audience collectively inhales. He’s not as he represented himself. They talk from far sides of the kitchen. Eric thinks she’s “special.” Uh huh. Anna makes a counter-intuitive decision.
Playwright Scott Organ controls us like Machiavelli. Again and again he sets up situations provoking expectations of dire/violent outcome. Tension ebbs and flows never quite dissipating. As the young people grow secretly closer, Beth agrees to marry Tim. Then Anna insists they meet Eric, or Eric convinces her he should. The encounter is as awkward and accusatory as you might imagine.
Beth has been carrying a secret for 12 years which not only upsets everyone’s plans, but could potentially ruin all their lives. The revalatory confrontation is bound to catch you unawares. Things emotionally snowball.
DeAnna Lenhart and Alexa Shae Niziak
This is a play about expectation, power, responsibility, and consequences. Writing is completely credible until the very end when, in my opinion, based on character, pivotal things are left unsaid. You may disagree. Up till then, the piece offers a helluva ride. It’s topical, skillfully crafted, and well produced.
Director Seth Barrish creates a natural atmosphere with attitude as realistic as stage business. Actors are given space to listen and react. No one overdoes it. Timing enhances.
Zachary Booth’s Eric is insidiously creepy. Part of this is what we bring to him based on situation, part can be credited to the actor’s adroit underplaying.
As Tim, Robert Manning Jr. is palpably manly and dependable, which, in his capable hands, seems more recognizable than cliché.
DeAnna Lenhart (Beth) has us till her last speech when I didn’t feel what must be the character’s gut wrenching regret.
Alexa Shae Niziak (Anna) is terrific. She neither makes a false move nor exhibits a less than credible expression. Everything is honest and sympathetic. This young actress should be watched.
Set Design by Edward T. Morris is well configured and speaks of particular economic status. Kristin Isola’s Costume Design puts the women in mostly tasteless, cheap looking apparel that belies cultural savvy.
If you’re unaware of Barrow Group, take heed. I’ve seen several excellent productions from this group sequestered slightly off the Broadway grid.
Photos by Todd Cerveris
Opening: DeAnna Lenhart, Alexa Shae Niziak, Zachary Booth, Robert Manning Jr.
The Barrow Group presents The World Premiere of
the thing with feathers by Scott Organ
Directed by Seth Barrish
312 West 36th Street
Through February 10, 2018