Sunday, March 1, 2009

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

Through March 8th, Emerging Artists Theatre returns with its semiannual EATFest, showcasing nine new works by emerging playwrights. Housed in the TADA! Youth Theater, the Spring '09 EATFest is split into four series: Series A featuring plays by Eugenia Woods (Better Dresses), Alex Broun (Gift of the Gun), and Matt Fotis (Burying Mom); Series B featuring plays by Steven Korbar (Mrs. Jansen Isn't Here Now), Ted LoRusso (Moon Night), Jason Matthews (The Five Worst Words), and Jon Spano (Family Comes First); and Series C and D featuring two standalone plays by Vanda (Memory Play) and Mark Finley (The Chiselers).

Review by Byrne Harrison

Emerging Artists' Spring EATFest '09 Series A features three plays completely different in tone and style, yet connected in their questions about how well people know themselves. Are the clothes you wear governed by who you are, or are you what you wear? What would you be willing to give up in order to have a new start? How can you move beyond grief and begin living again?

Better Dresses by Eugenia Woods addresses the question of who we are underneath the clothes. Marcel (Jerry Marsini), a snooty, but insightful couture salesman, can see beyond what his customers want to what they need. The wife (Sarah Miriam Aziz) of a much, much older man doesn't need a skimpy designer dress that she has to starve herself to wear - she needs attention . . . and maybe some carbs. The minimalist (Jacquelyn Poplar) hiding behind her plain lines and muted colors needs to overcome her fear of life and paint the town, and herself, red. Better Dresses has its share of laughs, but some of the comedy is muted by choppy and uneven timing. What should be snappy and razor sharp dialogue doesn't always flow. Though directors Ron Bopst and Ryan Hilliard try to keep the play visually stimulating, this is one of those plays where less is more, and the focus should be placed on the dialogue.

Alex Broun's Gift of the Gun is the second play of the evening. In it, a young rent boy, Ben (Tim Seib), thinks he's meeting a new customer for a trick. But William (Peter Levine) isn't interested in sex. Buffeted by a life in which he feels he has no control, he is orchestrating the one thing he can control, his demise. He has chosen Ben to be his angel of death, and will not take no for an answer. Broun's play is fascinating and has a bit of a twist at the end. Seib does an excellent job as Ben, and Levine acquits himself well, though he lacks a certain tension that would seem to be present given the stakes.

The final play of the evening is Burying Mom by Matt Fotis. The play deals with Paul (Scott Raker), a young man expecting his first child, whose life become stuck after the death of his mother. For six years he's unable to work, other than having a paper route. He can't bury his mother; he keeps her ashes in the attic. He can't relate to his wife, even when she announces her pregnancy. Jumping through time to tell Paul's story, Burying Mom is fascinating in that it only shows scenes between Paul and the women in his life - his wife, sister, old guidance counselor, grandmother, ex-fiancee, and in the final scene, his mother and unborn daughter. It is a well-written play, filled with melancholy and humor. Featuring solid direction by Deb Guston and some of marvelous performances by Raker, Janelle Lannan as his wife, Alexandra Zabriskie as his guidance counselor, and Jacqueline Sydney as his mom, Burying Mom is the standout of the evening.

Better Dresses
Written by Eugenia Woods
Directed by Ron Bopst and Ryan Hilliard
Featuring: Jerry Marsini (Marcel), Sarah Miriam Aziz (Customer #1), Chelsea Rodriguez (Customer #2), Jacquelyn Poplar (Customer #3)

Gift of the Gun
Written by Alex Broun
Directed by Molly Marinik
Featuring: Tim Seib (Ben), Peter Levin (William)

Burying Mom
Written by Matt Fotis
Directed by Deb Guston
Featuring: Scott Raker (Paul Morgan), Janelle Lannan (Jane Morgan), Kelly Dynan (Patty), Hershey Miller (Casket Sales Woman), Alexandra Zabriskie (Counselor), Deb Armelino (Waitress), Jane Altman (Grandma), Laura Beth Wells (Maggie), Jacqueline Sydney (Paul's Mom)

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 A is performed Monday & Thursday at 7 PM, Sunday at 4:30 PM

TADA! Youth Theater
15 W. 28th Street