Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"It is Done" - Where One Good Turn Demands A Steep Payment

Review by Judd Hollander
Photo by Jen Maufrais Kelly

Playwright Alex Goldberg seems to have been heavily influenced by the work of Conor McPherson, specifically by such plays as The Weir and The Seafarer; as elements of both (as well as more than a bit of the "Twilight Zone") can be found in Goldberg's nifty little thriller It is Done.

A wild and unexpected windstorm has forced two travelers to take shelter in a bar so remote there's no other building for 90 miles in any direction. It's also situated smack dab in the middle of a cellular "dead zone". The two people in question (arriving separately) are Jonas (Ean Sheehy) and Ruby (Catin Ojeda). Welcoming them to the bar (called "bar") is the somewhat slovenly, plain-speaking and sexually-fixated Hank (Matt Kalman); the establishment's proprietor/owner and one-man staff.

Unfortunately for Hank, neither of the new arrivals is all that much interested in his overt advances, though there is some interesting banter between Hank and Ruby at times; both Ruby and Jonas having their own particular issues to deal with. Jonas is on a frantic journey to outrace a recurring nightmare. One which recalls a fateful encounter with a childhood bully more than 20 years earlier. Ruby meanwhile is just trying to get to a business appointment (she's a sort of finder of lost people) hoping a local auto mechanic from AAA will be able to rescue her once the storm lifts.

As the temporarily stranded duo begin to bond over a plate of microwaveable pizza, it becomes apparent Ruby knows all about Jonas, in fact, she knows certain things Jonas has never told another living soul. As Jonas tries to figure out what's going on, Ruby only serves to deepen the mystery by revealing that Jonas himself was the one who hired her.

Revealing any more would be giving away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say the question soon becomes not so much what Ruby's ultimate purpose actually is, but rather how exactly she will achieve her goals, and how this will affect Jonas and Hank. (It is also worth nothing certain things in this play aren't exactly what they seem.)

As the playwright points out, one can't escape the past; only perhaps hide from it for a little while. It's also made clear there are always consequences for each decision made, and a time an ultimate reckoning will come due. From Hank's choice to live out in the middle of nowhere, basically cutting himself from the world at large, to Jonas' desperate attempt to run from a secret he only half-remembers, all roads lead to the final confrontation.

To Goldberg and director Tom Wojtunik's credit, the decision was made to set the play in an actual working bar; in this case a place called The Mean Fiddler. The establishment's underground space makes one feel as if they are actually someplace far from the big city, and transported to a location where you can still find a working jukebox that plays Hank Williams tunes, with a dial telephone sitting in the corner. It also helps that the actors move in and around the audience, making those watching feel a part of the action.

Interestingly, it is Kalman as Hank who becomes the most interesting of the characters. A man perennially on the make, he doesn't take himself too seriously and comes off as a likable chauvinist, rather than a mean-spirited one. He's also terribly lonely for company, thought he would never admit it. This is the kind of character you'd love to talk to when you have nothing better to do, though you'd probably want him to vanish once something better came along. Kalman has great fun with the role, making the character so over the top at points one can't help but laugh. However, it would have been nice if Hank had been given more of a back story. Not to mention explaining how he's able to stay in business when he's so far off the beaten track (Ruby and Jonas are his first customers in a week). Hank also embodies most of the humor in the play, allowing for a bit of respite from some of the other underlying tensions present.

Sheehy does a good job with Jonas, a youngish man, earnest, tense and terribly frightened; and not able to understand the terror and secrets that are following him. It also helps that the audience watches events unfold the same time as he does, Jonas in a sense becoming a sort of stand-in for them as the truth is slowly revealed. Jonas' relationship with Ruby also proves to be a nice interlude, though in the end it turns out to be merely the calm before the storm.

Ojeda presents an interesting conundrum as Ruby, a smart sensual woman who could probably handle both Jonas and Hank in and out of bed (though Hank would probably dispute that fact). At the same time, her sexuality hides a powerful secret. One which, if true, could hold the answers Jonas seeks. Yet there are also times Ruby seems too playful with her role, telling Jonas to enjoy the moment and talking about the importance of a good alcohol beverage when there are far more serious things occurring. This may ring true for the character as the playwright and/or director envisioned it, but her attitude takes away from what should be stark and dramatic moments. Some of the conversations between Jonas and Ruby also go on a bit too long, especially once all the pieces are put in place and the audience knows what's coming.

Sound effects, especially the wind storm, are nicely done by Colin Whitely, as is the lighting work by Christopher Thielking. These and the other little touches added (i.e. the phone) all help to give a nice and somewhat nostalgic sense of atmosphere to the proceedings.

It is Done is an intriguing and involving work where the stakes turn out to be bigger than anyone first imagines. With a bit of tweaking here and there, Goldberg might have an Off-Broadway hit on his hands.

It is Done

Featuring: Matt Kalman (Hank), Catin Ojeda (Ruby), Ean Sheehy (Jonas)
Written by Alex Goldberg
Directed by Tom Wojtunik
Sound Design: Colin Whitely
Lighting Design: Christopher Thielking
Production Design: Tim McMath
Stage Manager: Amanda-Mae Goodridge
Assistant Stage Manager: Lisa Haedrich
Movement Consultant: Ryan Kasprzak
Associate Producer: Joe Coots
Press Representative: Joe Trentacosta/Springer Associates
Presented by 22Q Entertainment & GO AlleyCat Productions

The Mean Fiddler
266 West 47th Street

Running Time: Two Hours
Closed: December 5, 2011

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