Sunday, March 1, 2009

Review - Spring EATFest '09 - Series B (Emerging Artists Theatre)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Ned Thorne

Spring EATFest Series B is built around relationships. They may be unconventional (Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now), doomed (Moon Night), almost over (The Five Worst Words), or just downright creepy (Family Comes First), but they are entertaining.

It's a scene that has been played out time and time again. An alcoholic barfly looking to score. The shy, awkward man who is not in her league. Pretty conventional stuff. But in Steven Korbar's clever play, Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now, things are not what they seem. What starts as a chance encounter between two opposites quickly turns erotic as forbidden fantasies are revealed and explored. Played with gusto by Dan Barnhill and Elizabeth A. Bell and well directed by Vivian Meisner, Mrs. Jansen is a fun, comic play that is full of surprises.

Moon Night takes a different tack, slowly uncovering a relationship between two men who haven't seen each other in twenty years. Turner (Bernard Burlew) is a married man settled into a comfortable life in the town where he grew up. A chance encounter with Maddock (Chuck Saculla), an old friend from twenty years ago, challenges his status quo. Over a grudge match of raquetball, their history is revealed, along with the reason for Maddock's sudden return. Told in spare, grudging dialogue, filled with anger and remorse, Moon Night is effective, though director Ian Streicher blunts much of the dramatic tension by allowing the actors to reveal the nature of Turner and Maddock's relationship too soon, dropping too many hints before the climatic racquetball match. Burlew and Saculla are excellent in roles, especially Burlew as the reticent Turner. Both display a natural physicality, and communicate volumes through economical gestures and looks. Although the play is perhaps overly long, Ian Streicher's strong direction keeps it interesting.

The tag line for The Five Worst Words says that the scariest sentence in the English language is, "Honey, we need to talk." Scary or not, in playwright Jason Matthews' hands, it is very amusing. The play features Matt Boethin as Pat, a man who desperately wants out of his relationship. Terry (Tommy Day Carey) isn't going to make it easy for him. What follows is a thrust and parry breakup, full of laugh lines, fascinating reasons for two people to stay together, and an unexpected and amusing twist at the end. Directed with comic flair by Dan Dinero and excellently acted by Boethin and Carey, The Five Worst Words is a funny little play.

The final piece of the evening, and one of the most disturbingly amusing I've seen in a while, is Jon Spano's Family Comes First. Featuring a cast of characters that makes the Addams Family seem like the Osmonds, the tagline for the play is, "The family that lays together, stays together." Living on an isolated vineyard, Clarissa (Lawrence M. Bullock), her brother/husband Elfin (Blake Walton) and their children Hammer (Dusty Alvarado), Rubinesque (Vinnie Costa) and Troy-Toy (Adam Schneider) are coming up with a plan to keep the family matriarch from giving all their fortune to the church. To describe much more will give away much of the nasty and funny secrets in this over-the-top play. The all-male cast does an excellent job, especially the outstanding Vinnie Costa as Rubinesque. Also worth mentioning are J. Stephen Brantley, as the long-suffering and sassy Caterpiller, and Dusty Alvarado who gleams with a feral sexiness as Hammer. This John Waters meets Charles Addams play will not be for everyone, but those who like their comedy on the absurd side will have fun.

Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now
Written by Steven Korbar
Directed by Vivian Meisner
Featuring: Dan Barnhill (He), Elizabeth A. Bell (She)

Moon Night
Written by Ted LoRusso
Directed by Ian Streicher
Assistant Directed by Ellys R. Abrams
Featuring: Bernard Burlew (Turner), Chuck Saculla (Maddock)

The Five Worst Words
Written by Jason Matthews
Directed by Dan Dinero
Featuring: Matt Boethin (Pat), Tommy Day Carey (Terry)

Family Comes First
Written by Jon Spano
Directed by Dan Dinero
Featuring: Lawrence M. Bullock (Clarissa), J. Stephen Brantley (Caterpiller), Blake Walton (Elfin/Father Duncan), Adam Schneider (Troy-Toy), Vinnie Costa (Rubinesque), Dusty Alvarado (Hammer)

Production Team
Executive Producer/Artistic Director: Paul Adams
Production Manager: Andrew Ronan
Stage Manager (Series A&B): Alison Carroll
Stage Manager (The Chiselers and Memory River): Terra Vetter
Assistant Stage Manager: Julie Feltman
Set Designer: Tim McMath
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Granrud
Sound Designer (Series A&B): Ned Thorne
Sound Designer (The Chiselers and Memory River): Kristyn R. Smith
Costume Designer: Meredith Neal
Props Master: Sash Gibo
United Stages Liaison: David Bishop

Series B is performed Tuesday & Friday at 7 PM, Sunday at 7:30 PM

TADA! Youth Theater
15 W. 28th Street