Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review - Eightythree Down (Hard Sparks)

By Byrne Harrison

Sometime everything just clicks into place.  A strong play, a great cast, an amazing director - it all just comes together to make a memorable evening of theatre.

Hard Sparks' first full-length production, Eightythree Down, is one of those shows.  This short, taut thriller about four desperate people thrown together on New Year's Eve 1983 is terrific.

Photo by Hunter Canning
Martin (Brian Miskell) is a young man who is stuck - stuck at home, stuck in life, unsure how to move forward.  That is until Dina (Melody Bates), an old high school friend, crashes into his parents' basement with two friends in tow - Stuart (Ian Holcomb), a strutting, highly sexual Brit punk, and Tony (Bryan Kaplan), a thug with self-control issues.  On the run from a string of bad decisions, Dina has brought them to Martin, the smartest guy she knows, hoping he can help them out.  What follows is a fast-paced game of cat and mouse, full of sexual tension and violence.

Photo by Hunter Canning
The cast is amazing and does an excellent job with playwright J. Stephen Brantley's script.  Bates is outstanding as Dina, at times child-like and innocent and at others, marvelously manipulative, but always with a mixed together core of sadness and hope.  Watching her peel back the layers and exposing just a little bit more of Dina's true self is marvelous.  Kaplan radiates menace as Tony, but there is a charisma there, too, that explains why Dina and even Stuart would be attracted to and repelled by him.    Holcomb's Stuart is full of heat which he aims at any target.  Sensing shy Martin's true nature, Stuart goes into power seduction mode.  A brief sex scene between Stuart and Martin is both exciting and disturbing, due to superb work by Holcomb and Miskell.  Miskell's Martin is outstanding.  Timid and cringing, socially awkward, alone on New Year's Eve, he could easily become pathetic.  But Miskell creates a fully fleshed-out character, whose choices, while not as violently wrong as Dina, Stuart, and Tony's, have still led him to a dead end, leaving him as desperate as they are, even if he can't recognize that at first.  Shocked out of his torpor by sex and violence, Martin can either crumble to nothing or finally grow.  Though the resolution is no surprise to the audience, the beauty of Miskell's performance is that it is clearly a surprise to Martin.

Director Daniel Talbott has done an exceptional job building the tension in the play, teasing it out in fits and starts until it comes crashing down like an avalanche.  He uses every inch of the albeit small space at UNDER St. Marks, not playing to the audience as some directors do, but making the audience feel like voyeurs, peeking into the basement and watching the story unfold.  And he doesn't shy away from physical violence - books fly, shelves teeter, people crash into walls - further increasing the tension.

Eightythree Down is an exciting play and bodes extremely well for this new company.  Hard Sparks is definitely on my list of companies to keep an eye on.

Eightythree Down
Written by J. Stephen Brantley
Directed by Daniel Talbott
Sound: Janie Bullard
Scenery: Eugenia Furneauzx-Arends
Lighting: Brad Peterson
Costumes: Tristan Raines
Stage Manager: Amanda Michaels
Assistant Stage Manager: Alex Marks
Assistant Director: Evan Caccioppoli
Fight Choreographer: Laura Ramadei
Casting Director: Jenn Haltman
Press Representative: Emily Owens
Graphics: Julia Bernadsky
Assistant Set Designer: Judy Merrick
Casting Director: Jenn Haltman

Featuring: Melody Bates (Dina), Ian Holcomb (Stuart), Bryan Kaplan (Tony), Brian Miskell (Martin)

UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A)
September 1-17 (Thursday through Saturday at 8pm)

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