Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Imagine the pandemonium: Dinosaurs have woken from 65 million years of slumber in the small town of New Kensington and are, understandably, in need of a snack. While the mighty lizards smash and grab their way through town, three thirty-something friends take cover at slacker Pete’s place and wait for it all to blow over. Such is the premise of Alexander V. Thompson’s new play, Pete Rex, now showing at 59E59 Theaters.
That is, at least, the premise of the first half of the play. The first half flies by as best buds Pete and Bo, and Pete’s ex-girlfriend, Julie, debate hunkering down versus fleeing for their lives. Julie thinks it’s time to move. Pete and Bo aren’t that sure it isn’t all just the best practical joke they’ve ever seen.
The title is Pete Rex, and he really does. Pete wrecks his relationship. Pete wrecks his friendship. Pete wrecks the best opportunity he has for his continuing education. The question we have to ask is why. That is the questions whose knot of answers metaphorically unravels in the play’s significantly more introspective—albeit emotionally muddy—second half.
Rosie Sowain and Greg Carere
Where psychological clarity is missing, what we do get is a punky, British-accented T-Rex named Nero. Really, there are worse inner demons. Greg Carere, Simon Winheld, and Rosie Sowain play the trio of Pete, Bo, and Julie, respectively. (Winheld spends the second act as the affable but unpredictable short-armed surprise guest.) If there are any faults to their performances it might be that they don’t appear to be quite as affected by events and actions as one would expect. But then, who knows how they would act when faced with a posh prehistoric predator in their living room?
Director Brad Raimondo pulls a few fun tricks out of his sleeve to shift into flashback, and the overall feel of the first act is a little like a funnier and significantly less bloody (onstage) Dawn of the Dead. Tempers flare and people make poor choices when the pressure is on. Life or death choices, actually. And it doesn’t work out well for everyone. But it’s so amusing to watch them try.
Pete Rex has a great sense of humor and a solid heart. Where the cracks start to show is in defining the main plot device in the second act. At different times it means different things: Is it Pete’s immaturity? Toxic masculinity? White male entitlement? Childhood trauma? Bullying? Chronic indecision? What we can do is bundle up all of those issues under one overarching but vague heading—emotional dysfunction—and just hope Pete can get his act together enough to break his patterns and crawl out of the rut he’s dug for himself. Maybe it isn’t too late for a happily ever after.
Photos by Hugh Mackey Top: L-R: Rosie Sowain and Greg Carere
Pete Rex Written by Alexander V. Thompson, directed by Brad Raimondo Produced by The Dreamscape Theatre 59E59 Theatres Showing through Saturday, March 3, 2018
As part of their annual East to Edinburgh series, 59E59 Theaters have given a temporary home to several small acts before they head to Auld Reeky for August. There is always a wide assortment of plays and one-person shows of varying levels of completeness. This year is no exception. Here are two:
Tales of life and Death
There was an announcement made before Tales of Life and Death that a fifth short play had been added to bring the length to an hour and that, for that play, the actors would be reading from scripts. No problem there. What is a problem is when it’s impossible to tell which of the short plays that means as three of the five very clearly involved at least one performer reading their lines. Then it isn’t a case of not enough time to learn blocking and technical cues but not have lines down; it’s a case of lack of preparation.
Playwright Craig Lucas has some impressive credentials: Both a Pulitzer and Tony Award winner, his most famous work is Prelude to A Kiss, a play that went on to become a major motion picture with Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan. Tales of Life and Death has neither that piece’s charms, nor its philosophical conundrums. These stories might have been provocative a few decades ago, like when AIDS was fairly new and the AIDS quilt movement started. For a current play it felt stale, out of touch — at least when limited to the few minutes in which that particular story ran its course.
The performance comprises a series of only loosely linked vignettes performed by two actors, Richard Kline and Pamela Shaw. Kline’s style is loose, and he seems perfectly comfortable onstage. On the night of the performance, even when he was “on script” he was mostly off it, delivering his lines with a natural ease. Shaw, on the other hand, seemed to have difficulty not only with the new material but with the greater part of it. This was made particularly evident in a vignette in which she’s the only one who does any speaking, with Kline’s character offering only nods and shakes of his head in reply to her questions and the pre-recorded comments. There was a lot of stammering and reading off notes on the “bar.” Her delivery, when it came, was consistently rushed and nervous throughout. It might have been a chosen style of performance, but it looked like lack of preparation.
News clips fill the silence and dark between scenes, but these too feel stale and irrelevant, other than possibly to clue the audience in to the dates when these stories may take place. Though that’s just a guess to their purpose. It isn’t clear if that was a directorial decision or the playwright’s prerogative, but the sound balance was off on the evening and so much of what was said in the clips was lost or very difficult to hear.
It’s true that this is a preview show, and that the cast and crew are preparing for their time in the world’s largest cultural festival, but with time running short, there is a lot of work to do.
As part of their annual East to Edinburgh series, 59E59 Theaters have given a temporary home to several small acts before they head to Auld Reeky for August. There is always a wide assortment of plays and one-person shows of varying levels of completeness. This year is no exception.
Where Tales suffered from stiffness and forgotten lines, Cece Otto’s one-woman show Hyperthymesia offers a dynamic narrator and a fascinating story. The monologue piece is about a woman who is one of only a couple dozen or so people who have been diagnosed with a condition characterized by highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). In these cases, a hyperthymesiac can recall even minute details about any day during their lives from the beginning of their memory on. While many people might think about how useful an ability like that could be, Otto’s show focuses on the other edge of the sword: Happiness is being able to forget the things that have hurt you. Breakups, deaths of loved ones, scares and disappointments — all feel as fresh as the day they happened. It’s no wonder someone in the position of possessing such an extraordinary memory would do anything they can to try to forget.
Much of the play runs parallel to the life of a woman named Jill Price, at least in terms of the techniques Price employed to try to calm her thoughts, like regular and extensive journaling. People with HSAM have talked about their memories crowding their heads in any calm, still moment. Otto describes it like a swarm of bees, and the amount of detail that she wrote into the play could be just as intimidating. In between descriptive and emotional recitals of life stories (and the dates on which they occurred), she performs various series of actions and gestures, borrowing from dance, that provide slow, smooth feeling to counterbalance her narrator’s sometimes frenzied words.
The stage design consists of a single chair, but Otto pantomimes whatever else might be needed, leaving the audience to form an idea from imagination. It’s a plain but touching performance about one person’s struggles with her own amazing mind. The script is thoughtful, and also asks the audience to question their own experiences with remembering and forgetting. There is empathy and kindness in the telling, making Otto a very endearing narrator. It’s a piece that demands a lot of her, both physically and mentally — which also explains the unusual running time of 40 minutes — but is very satisfying and ultimately very hopeful. Hyperthymesia is directed by Robert Scott Smith.
It’s 1963 Romania. I know this because I’ve read the press release. Dialogue eventually reveals the country but never a date = political context. Later, historical specifics stultify making the earlier omission twice missed.
Maria (Tracy Sallows), a dressmaker, and her sullen 19 year-old son Robi (Bryan Burton), a factory electrician, live in near poverty. When she expresses delight finding chicken legs at the butcher, her son grumbles, “What happened to the rest of the chicken?” ‘Not for such as them.
Tracy Sallows and Caralyn Kozlowski
Robi is obsessed with two things, discovering the identity of his father (he’s been raised by Maria) and escaping Romania to “the West.” He paid a week’s salary for American jeans. Even if the aspiring emigrant could afford to leave, the government will not issue visas. Repetitive dialogue neither lets one get involved in any other aspect of his life, nor offers personality illumination. The most original thing about the boy is his addiction to sugar – ladled on everything from stuffed peppers to noodles.
Caralyn Kozlowski and Robert S. Gregory
Other characters on this axis of assumptions and “secrets” include Irma (Caralyn Kozlowski), Maria’s best friend during the war, now merely a client due to the latter’s unexplained enmity and Irma’s successful, West Berlin-based, engineer brother. As an officer in the Hungarian army 20 years ago, Robert (Robert S. Gregory) was engaged to Maria when he summarily disappeared.
An unexpected visit by Robert brings everything to the surface. Why has he come? (Even Irma is curiously suspicious.) What provoked him to abandon Maria without a goodbye so many years ago? He’s married with children, but does he still carry a torch? Is Robi his son or that of a Jewish man Robert jealously reported to the Nazis? Irma was seen entering and leaving the ghetto. Did she take part in the betrayal? What does Maria believe? Who was the other man?
Tracy Sallows and Bryan Burton
The program says the drama runs an hour thirty. Director Roger Hendricks Simon, who introduces the piece, is more accurate at two hours. The piece might be successful at sixty minutes. Were Sarah Levine Simon and Mihai Grunfeld’s play filled with experiential details, it would be an interesting story. It is not. Names, places, and events are too often colorless and without detail. A moment many of us felt was the fitting ending is bypassed for an unnecessary additional scene.
Tracy Sallows is the only one onstage who consistently holds our attention and elicits sympathy. Stubborn pragmatism, deep maternal love, and abiding anger read true. When she lets her hair down in anticipation of seeing Robert again despite strong ambivalence, we see a flicker of undeniable memory. It’s easy to imagine Maria’s oft-referred-to younger self. The actress has a credible accent.
Robert S. Gregory has moments but doesn’t seem to be able to project what his character feels.
Director Roger Hendricks Simon consigns his company to caucus races much of the time, circling round and round the set without reason. Despite ample available props, stage business is practically nonexistent. Irma, who’s ostensibly a flirt, touches people as if they’re objects. Robert telegraphs illness, yet still manages to be unconvincing. A waltz that might’ve conjured softer selves, goes untapped. The actors seem uncomfortable in their skins.
The Set by Stephen C. Jones is evocatively shabby. Large, torn photos of wherever we are in Romania give us semblance of place. An old sewing machine and tatty dress form work well. Piles of fabric would’ve helped.
Costume Design by Molly R. Seidel is extremely apt, but Irma’s gold evening shoes over black stockings is a a blatant mistake the lady in question would never make.
There’s no credit for Sound. Use of classical music excerpts and bridging sound of the sewing machine are excellent.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Opening: Tracy Sallows
The Dressmaker’s Secret by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihai Grunfeld Based on the novel by Mihai Grunfeld Directed by Roger Hendricks Simon 59E 59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through March 5, 2017
Simon Green and David Shrubsole made their New York debut at 59E59 Theaters in 2008 with the Noel Coward show A Changing World. I attended-twice. Here, I thought, were performers who “got” Coward, both his tender sentimentality and acerbic wit. Green’s British accent, actor’s phrasing, perception, and intelligence buoyed an unforced theatrical tenor. Shrubsole’s role as creative Sancho Panza was a perfect fit.
Eight years later, with one appearance here between, the respectively accomplished duo come together again to give us a more personal glimpse of Sir Noel. Copious research is evident in selections of Coward’s letters (to and from), poems, diaries, and songs. The latter also mines material from Cole Porter, Ivor Novello, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin which the program conjectures were inspired by Coward. Jeremy Nicholas’s “Place Settings” could actually be mistaken for Coward, influencing Porter and Novello is highly plausible. I wonder at the inclusion of Gershwin and Berlin on this list, however.
Additionally, with mixed results, the show includes Shrubsole’s setting of verse by Coward, Porter and Maya Angelou. A sophisticated The Little Old Bar at the Ritz (Porter’s verse) arrives smart and melodic, but Angelou’s Human Family seems to be in the wrong show, and Coward’s Honeymoon 1905 drones on almost monotone. Too many settings sound alike.
Readings and monologues are often quite wonderful. I Knew You Without Enchantment is a virtuoso turn. Green can toss off phrases like “My darlings” as if they were second nature. Correspondence between Podge and Stodge (Coward and his mother, Violet) rings wry and warmly true.
The show features eclectic songs such as : “Something Very Strange is Happening to Me,” “Don’t Turn Away From Love” (with an effective soupcon more emphasis on don’t) and “I Saw No Shadow” (Shrubsole paints melodic pictures) as well as the iconic “I Travel Alone”, “London Pride”, and “Sail Away.” These last three are melancholy, dignified, wistful, resigned, while a rendition of “I Went To a Marvelous Party” is unexpectedly rushed, chopped by interjected text, and unfunny. This is not the Green I remember.
At home both on a big stage and in an intimate cabaret environment, Green looks slowly around the room drawing us in. The artist, like Coward, is elegant. There are genuinely touching and lighthearted moments. Shrubsole’s accompaniment and background music (to spoken verse) is respectively sensitive and spot on. In this show, however, he’s is more successful with other composer’s melodies.
I admire these artists, but am disappointed with their latest effort.
Photos by Heidi Bohenkamp
Simon Green Life is for Living-Conversations with Noel Coward Musical Director/Pianist/composing contributor-David Shrubsole Research- Jason Morell 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through January 1, 2016
What do you get when you put nursery rhymes in the seedy back alleys and darkened docks of a noir yarn? You get something twisted and delicious, like The City That Cried Wolf, now running at 59E59 Theaters.
We all know the way it goes: Hardened gumshoe is hired by a jealous husband to follow a beautiful but dangerous dame, things go awry, people get hurt, the gumshoe finds himself falling deep in a mystery he never could have predicted. Only this time there’s a twist. That hardened gumshoe is one Jack B. Nimble, the guy who’s hired him to track his wife is Mayor Humpty Dumpty, the wife is one Bo Peep, and the rest of the characters are right out of rhymes from bedtime. It’s a tale chockablock with adult themes told in a way that could keep even the youngest among us giggling. Playwright Brooks Reeves has filled the script with ‘dad jokes’ and punny nods to the source materials, providing enough winks and nods to keep things interesting for cool kids of all ages.
Adam LaFaci and Rebecca Spiro
The cast of characters is huge. From the aforementioned cracked egg to a delightfully dark pair of gleeful coroners called Hansel and Gretel to a gang of feathered ruffians that trade in drugs and women, the titular city is a dark place and there’s something foul afoot. Or is that fowl? It seems like the city wolf population has been hard at work causing death and destruction, and Detective Nimble is caught in the middle of a situation that may not be what it seems.
There are six actors—Holly Chou, Michelle Concha, Dalton Davis, Adam La Faci, Rebecca Spiro, Gwen Sisco, and Dalles Wilie—covering a cast of dozens. La Faci sticks to Nimble throughout and Concha and Spiro spend the majority of their time as Mother Goose and Bo Peep, respectively, leaving all the rest for a merry and versatile band of high-energy players, all of whom do a fabulous job of creating personalities as distinct as they are diverse. And they are very diverse. We got blind mice, police grunts, wary wolves, and at least a dozen other denizens of shadowy Rhyme Town. It’s difficult to pick favorites because they’re all so good and are required to play such different characters, though Wilie certainly throws himself into his parts with impressive vigor.
There are timely undercurrents about racial—or, in this case, species—profiling, media obligations, terrorism, police brutality and more. It isn’t a new play, but it plays fresh in the greater context of current national and world events.
Directed by Leta Tremblay, The City That Cried Wolf is nearly two hours of dark mischief, though the time flies once you’re fully immersed in the story. Jazz fills the air. The scenery is simple but beautifully done, with glowing neon illuminating the name of each venue as it’s introduced and enough grit and grime to make it feel fully lived-in. And you will want to live there, even after you get to whodunit. Get in while you can.
The City That Cried Wolf is playing at 59E59 Theaters through December 11, 2016.
When the movie Terms of Endearment came out in theaters in 1983, it was by all measures an incredibly successful film. Based on the book by Larry McMurtry and with ascreenplay by James L. Brooks, it featured a who’s who of award-winning actors, including Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson. Now the story comes to a new home, 59E59 Theaters, for its first U.S. stage production.
Adapted for the stagve by Dan Gordon, Terms of Endearment tells the story of sweet Texas rose Emma, her critical and tough-as-nails mother, Aurora, and the men who lift them up and let them down.
The stage cast is full of familiar faces, headed up by the striking Molly Ringwald, the John Hughes muse who personified 80s teen culture in films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Here she puts on a hilariously snobbish New England accent and steely persona to become a woman who is at turns domineering, flirtatious, and sympathetic in the grief for all she has lost.
At first she seems completely unlikeable, almost to the point of being abusive in her criticism toward Emma, but at the story goes on and the years pass, she comes into focus as a woman who loves deeply but is also bridled by her expectations. The problem with being so critical about frivolous things is that when real criticism is deserved it doesn’t land with the impact it requires. It’s a complex role and Ringwald does it proud. But she doesn’t do it alone.
Jeb Brown plays the astronaut, Garrett, and he makes an instant impression on both the audience and Aurora. He’s an utter cad, always chasing after younger women and the next good time, but he’s also undeniably charming. His footloose and fancy-free philosophy couldn’t be more at odds with Aurora’s staid dignity. For every joke he cracks, no matter how flirtatious or fact-based, she has a reason to be doubtful. Yet when the two get together, doubt turns to delight. Between Brown’s charisma, Ringwald’s gravitas and their chemistry together, this is a production not to be missed.
Hannah Dunne, a familiar face to Mozart in the Jungle viewers, takes on the role of Aurora’s beleaguered daughter, Emma. Where Aurora wears silk, Emma opts for flannel. She hitches her post to Flap—a nickname Aurora cannot abide—a dismissive boy who becomes a dishonorable man, but that doesn’t stop them from having three kids together, kids that Emma cares for nearly singlehandedly while Flap is off gallivanting inappropriately with his university students.
The problem with Dunne’s Emma being so unflappable and willing to go without is that the performance requires a kind of subtlety that doesn’t quite come out—at least not farther back in the audience. She seems uniformly sweet, uniformly forgiving, even when she and her children have been done wrong. As for Flap, played by Denver Milord, there is little to recommend him. In the beginning, he comes off as a bit sexist and certainly inconsiderate, but things just get more unforgivable as time goes on.
Jeb Brown and John C. Vennema
Director Michael Parva, who has worked with playwright Dan Gordon before, and set designer David L. Arsenault, have worked together to craft a graceful, flowing, nearly seamless production. However, for those who have never seen the 1983 film, the mother–daughter relationship is the entire story. You can sense Emma’s discontent with Flap, but not really get the full idea of just how much of a snake he really is. You can hear that Emma’s son Tommy’s anger at his mother is deep and hot, but not feel how terribly it stings.
Unfortunately, due to space and time constraints, there are some really powerful moments in the film that simply don’t happen in this version. It’s a disappointment, but not enough to keep from recommending this production, which can still make inspire laughs and move people to tears—as it did most of the audience judging by the sound of sniffles that filled the room. Jessica DiGiovanni as Patsy and the Nurse and John C. Vennema as Doctor Maise round out the cast, both of them lending depth and humor to their smaller but important parts. Vennema in particular plays things to full humorous effect.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Top photo: Molly Ringwald and Hannah Dunne
Terms of Endearment Directed by Michael Parva Adapted by Dan Gordon 59E59 Theaters Through December 11, 201
Douglas Taurel has never served in the military but he possesses deep empathy for the soldier and the families of the soldiers. It is not an inactive empathy. Though a successful actor in his own right (he got into acting because he wanted to impress a girl!), seven years ago he felt compelled to begin working on a project which eventually turned into The American Soldier, a one-man play which he has been performing at theaters and festivals over the past year. Residents of the tri-state area who were unable to see the play previously will have another opportunity to see it at Mile Square Theater in Hoboken from September 9 -11.
I reviewed the play last year at 59E59 Theaters when it debuted (click here for the review) and had the opportunity last week to talk with Taurel about the play as he gets ready for the Hoboken run.
There were a few catalysts that drove Taurel create The American Soldier. First, he has always been fascinated with American history and has always spent time trying to understand history through characters. Second, as an avid reader, he read stories of veterans with PTSD and he was very troubled by them. And finally, as a husband and a father and an actor, he could really empathize with the pain of losing a child or a spouse. At a certain point, he wanted to do something. He wanted to give back. The American Soldier is the result of all that active empathy and intellect. “What I really wanted to do was to give a sincere thank-you to our soldiers and to their families,” said Taurel.
In The American Soldier, Taurel wanted to represent the war from all perspectives and the play provides a kaleidoscope of experiences. Soldiers are obviously represented, but there are also mothers, fathers, children, and siblings of soldiers. Not surprisingly, PTSD is a theme that comes up and seems to have resonated the most with audience members, but that is only one layer of the experience that Taurel was trying to convey. “I find it heartbreaking and moving to know that a son is not going to play with his father again,” said Taurel. “Or how a wife can get into bed without her husband for the rest of her life.”
These are experiences that can resonate with everyone, but it is the power of Taurel’s writing and acting that allows everyone to access those traumatic and heartbreaking experiences. It is because of this that the play has had a much longer life than he anticipated, something that is especially gratifying to Taurel. “It’s like the show that won’t die,” he told me. After an initial run at 59E59 Theaters, he took it to the Edinburgh Fringe where it won a 4-star rating and was nominated for the UK Amnesty International Award for Theatre excellence. The show started to sell out and people urged him to continue to take the show elsewhere. So from Edinburgh to Houston, and then later to the Midtown International Theater Festival in New York. Now it is Mile Square Theater in Hoboken, and he is also scheduled to reprise it in November in upstate New York in performances solely for veterans. To cap things off, he is also in discussions with the Kennedy Center to perform it there early next year.
Of course Taurel is pleased with the success of the show, but he is more pleased with how the show has been able to reach people and open up conversations that were closed down beforehand. He shared with me the letter of one veteran whose wife had never understood the military and held harsh views on it and the soldiers who joined. After seeing the show though, she apologized to her husband for their previous fights about the military, started to express an interest in his military experience, and then told him that she was proud of him. This is just one of many individual testimonials that Taurel has received.
Taurel called the show The American Soldier because it was based on actual letters by and to American soldiers. (He would build characters based on actual people, but fictionalize the stories since he didn’t have licensing rights.) But he believes that the themes and experiences he explores are universal to soldiers, regardless of country. He experienced this directly when he brought the play to Edinburgh. He admits that he was a little worried about bringing this play, blatantly titled The American Soldier to another country. He worried, rightly, that it would smack of American arrogance. Instead he found that the play was able to transcend the American boundary, and give cause for the stiff British upper lip to quaver a little. In England, he told me, no one was talking about these issues. Once the play started to sell out in Edinburgh, he would start to see mothers of U.K. veterans in the audience. And after the play, they would come up to him and thank him for doing the play and bringing these issues to light. Taurel believes that he would receive this reaction in any country.
If the soldier’s experience is universal across nations, it is also universal across time. Taurel was amazed once he started doing his research how he would find almost the same phrases and descriptions in letters from the 1700s to letters of today. The biggest pattern he found across all wars was the inability to sleep after killing innocent people. But this was just one of many, the others including loss and anger and post-traumatic stress.
And that is the power of the play. The ability to take military experiences across time and wars and countries and weave them together—through characters—in a way that resonates with both soldiers and non-soldiers, and more importantly, allows people to grieve or understand or simply be a little more at peace and able to move on with life.
If the shows moves on to the Kennedy Center next year, Taurel feels that would be a fitting way to end the great run. But when I asked him what is next, he almost sighed and said, “Oh, there are so many…” The two that are most important to him outside of the military are race and immigration. If Taurel is able to take on those issues as well as he has the military one, then I will eagerly be on the look out for those. For now though, he is busy enough with the final productions of The American Soldier as well as his regular acting work to even think about the next big project. However, I can’t help but think that Taurel, with as much active empathy as he has, will be back at some point to tackle another big issue. And that one will be worth waiting for. In the meantime, there are still another few productions of The American Soldier to savor before we see his next big project.
“The American Soldier” will be playing at the Mile Square Theater in Hoboken from September 9-11. For more information, visit: www.milesquaretheatre.org.
Touch-come so close to (an object) as to be or come into contact with it Touching-arousing strong feelings of sympathy, appreciation, or gratitude
“I was taking physics-again…for the fourth time” the solitary Kyle (Pete McElligot) begins as he packs cardboard boxes. Earth science is limiting, chemistry works only once, but physics you can take over and over and the world keeps opening. Zoe wandered into the classroom by mistake. She was not thin, wore too much makeup and an outrageous hat, but he knew.
There’s no fourth wall in much of this production. Memories are not so much related as inhabited and replayed. We experience connection that’s half deer in headlights and half gravitational imperative on his side and arms wide recognition on hers. “God, don’t science guys kiss girls?!” It has charm without being saccharine. When Kyle, almost shrugging, says, “We got married” the fact happily lands like a feather.
Zoe collects people and believes in the spirit. She shepherds Kyle into the world. Excited by science, he becomes an astronomer. “What’s real and true is so much more fantastically beautiful.” Still, he believes there’s life elsewhere in the universe and refers to Keats as “the” poet. They’re soulmates, yet wisely (here) not without incident and issues.
“One month before our 6th anniversary, Zoe went out and didn’t come back…she kissed me, thank God, and she left…(to buy whipped cream)… I let her go out alone…” “Stop that!” commands Bennie (Amadeo Fusca) the protagonist’s lifelong only friend, as he enters. We can feel Kyle’s pain and guilt. The pivotal disappearance scene is chronicled. Zoe’s sister Serena (Emily Batsford) and Bennie were arguing about something with Kyle when Zoe left. The three hardly noticed her exit. Then suddenly…
Amadeo Fusca and Emily Batsford
Spoiler alert- Zoe’s dead. Harrowing specifics are revealed over time from the police through Bennie to Kyle as the latter cuts himself off from everyone (including both families) associated with the tragedy. “I prefer to think about black holes.” The only human contact he maintains to keep himself from complete freefall is to say the least unexpected. It involves Kathleen (Katrina Lenk).
Kyle’s trajectory is vivid, sometimes gut-wrenching, and later, surprising. He can’t bear to be touched after Zoe’s disappearance-thus, the double entendre title. Engrossing re-entry (redemption) features a questionable confrontation but is otherwise plausible.
Pete McElligot and Katrina Kenk
Playwright Toni Press-Coffman infuses several difficult passages with humor (watch for the condoms) or takes us aside to illuminate earlier, lighter events. Astronomical states pepper the piece as metaphors with grace and purpose. They come trippingly off Kyle’s tongue, always in context. Relationships are layered and believable. The author manages to turn the story upside-down, closing with a shimmering, hopeful moment. Though it could be a bit shorter, the play will hold you fast. You may wince, grin, and tear up.
Director Nathaniel Shaw has done a splendid job with both staging and characterization. As he tells us about a party, Kyle picks up and discards an empty Chinese food container. The gestured description of a hat is idiosyncratic in its shape. Awkwardness affects every nerve; thrill is tangible; emptiness haunting. Bennie’s extensive use of gestures reflects his Italian upbringing. His entrances are usefully jarring as are those of Kathleen. The latter’s posture is as genuine as her reactions to Kyle, the unusual stranger. Selectively keeping characters on stage when they’re not involved is effective. Pacing, paramount in this piece, is marvelous.
Pete McElligot (Kyle) is the only actor in the production without Equity status. I find this astonishing. The nuance and depth of his performance is riveting. Emotion impacts every word, gesture and physical attitude, whether internalized or manifest. McElligot has lengthy monologues which unwind in real time as if occurring to him in front of us. He plays charming innocence as skillfully as numbing despair. Simply not knowing what to do with his hands enhances. A counter-intuitive moment of quiet tears is simply gorgeous. Confusion is palpable. As is joy.
Amadeo Fusca (Bennie) fits comfortably into the least well defined role of Kyle’s best/only friend, but a habit of putting his hands in his pockets at inappropriate moments contradicts and distracts from what the character is feeling.
Emily Batsford is a completely natural actress. She personifies Serena without fuss or pretension. Katrina Lenk (Kathleen) sympathetically fleshes out her role skirting the implicit heart of gold cliché. She and McElligot have many skillfully etched moments.
Craig Napoliello’s Set may look at first glance like corrugated boxes and debris, but holds a wealth of unwitting souvenirs and touchstones. (The penknife in a pocket is a nice touch.) Overhead LED lights beautifully signify stars. Kristin Isola’s Costume Design works subtly with three characters and wonderfully with the fourth-love the pink bra. Carl Wiemann’s Lighting Design has the evocative intricacy of an accompanying sonata. Julian Evans’ Original Music and Sound Design – from deep, visceral rumbling to music of the spheres – reaches into the subconscious, signifying the underlying presence of something inexplicable despite facts.
It may help you to know we’re in Arizona. This should be in the program.
Photos by Nikhil Saboo Opening: Production Art
Libra Theater Company presents Touch by Toni Press-Coffman Directed by Nathaniel Shaw 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through September 4, 2016 Venue Calendar