Saturday, September 22, 2007

Review – Have You Seen Steve Steven? (13P)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Usually when a play becomes as frustratingly opaque as Ann Marie Healy’s Have You Seen Steve Steven?, I spend so much time trying to figure out what it means that I lose any enjoyment in the simple art of watching it. That’s why I find myself surprised to say that I really liked this play, even though I’d be hard pressed to tell you what the playwright was trying to say. Thanks to the humorous writing and marvelous acting, it doesn’t much matter that the audience is as bewildered at the end of the play as the characters onstage are.

Have You Seen Steve Steven? follows Kathleen Clarkson (Stephanie Wright Thompson), a typical American teen. Typical, except she seems to realize that something’s not quite right in her artificial neighborhood of nearly identical mini-mansions. Her parents, Mary and Frank (Alissa Ford and Tom Riis Farrell) are preparing for a dinner party with family friends, the Dudleys, whom no one quite remembers, in a house that no one is sure how long they’ve lived in, in a neighborhood where they’ve never met any of the neighbors. That makes it easy for Hank Mountain (played with creepy jocularity by Matthew Maher) to insinuate himself into their midst. Is he a new neighbor? Is he something more sinister? Well, that doesn’t quite get answered, but it’s okay. Not knowing may be the point.

As the evening progresses, Kathleen begins to remember her missing childhood, aided by the Dudleys’ son, Thomas (Brandon Bales), a childhood friend she can’t quite recall, and Anlor (Jocelyn Kuritsky), a traumatized foreign exchange student. As Hank and his equally mysterious cohort Vera (Carol Rosenfeld) keep the adults busy, the teens unravel the mystery of their forgotten youth, most of which deals with their imaginary dog, Steve Steven, and the day he went missing. From the moment that connection is made, Hank and Vera nudge them closer to the truth as their world begins to spin out of control.

The acting in Have You Seen Steve Steven? is outstanding. Stephanie Wright Thompson hits just the right note as young girl not quite sure what is happening to her life, and unable to decide if she really wants to do anything about it. Alissa Ford and Tom Riis Farrell, as the Clarksons, manage to gently send up middle class Midwesterners without being cruel or snarky. They’re funny. They’re self-absorbed. But mostly, they’re just average. Kate Hampton and Frank Deal as Jane and Bill Dudley, revel in their characters’ suburban oneupsmanship. Matthew Maher is excellent as Hank Mountain. Part seer, part harbinger of doom, all smiles, he’s implied danger in a bright knit cap.

Director Anne Kauffman creates a dynamic production where everything is just a little off kilter and a little out of reach. Sue Rees’ stage design is interesting. She’s designed a room that has plenty of space, like most McMansions, and lacks any defining touch of style or personality. It’s as if the Clarksons have managed to live in this house without making the slightest imprint on it.

Have You Seen Steve Steven? is a creepy, yet funny show that will leave you feeling somewhat off-kilter. If you feel the need to have everything wrapped up and explained by the end of the play, this is probably not the show for you. However, if you can stand ambiguity and the feeling of being somehow left out, this show is worth a look.

Written by Ann Marie Healy
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Sets: Sue Rees
Lights: Garin Marschall
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Sound: Jeremy J. Lee
Dramaturg: Janice Paran
Stage Manager: Megan Schwarz
Assistant Stage Manager: Amara Watkin-Anson
Assistant Director: Sydney Gallas
Press Representative: Jim Baldassare
Associate Producer: Sandra Garner

Featuring Brandon Bales (Thomas), Frank Deal (Bill), Tom Riis Farrell (Frank), Alissa Ford (Mary), Kate Hampton (Jane), Jocelyn Kuritsky (Anlor), Matthew Maher (Hank Mountain), Carol Rosenfeld (Vera), Stephanie Wright Thompson (Kathleen)

The East 14th Street Theater
344 East 14th Street

Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m. through October 6