When EASTERN STANDARD had its New York premiere in 1988, the Times's Frank Rich wrote the following. "For anyone," quoth the Butcher of Broadway, "who has been waiting for a play that tells what it is like to be more or less middle-class, more or less young, and more or less well-intentioned in a frightening city ... Eastern Standard at long last is it."
It is more or less impossible that anyone has ever been waiting for such a play. Then or now. By then, the cultural critics' endless mastication of the "yuppie phenomenon" had made the entire subject unendurable. By now, the shrinking (though still sizable) audience of yuppie sympathizers can get a cheap fix simply by turning on Channel 5. In other words, now that we have the Fox network, why should one more moment of valuable stage time be wasted on the corrupt and neurotic yuppie?
Two answers suggest themselves. First, the '80s yuppie of Greenberg's play is - believe it or not - a fount of complexity by comparison to her vapid, trembling-lipped descendant, Ally McBeal. Second, Eastern Standard presents interesting challenges for actors, challenges indeed often met by Next Step Rep and its enthusiastic company of young actors.
Act One takes place in a midtown restaurant - not an Upper East Side cafe, as the program would have it - the cranberry-colored walls and drab tablecloths immediately setting the right mood (though one wonders whether a restaurant serving grouper tortellini would provide a ketchup bottle on every table).
Lights up on straight-arrow Stephen (John Koeppl) lunching with his best - and flamboyantly gay - friend Drew (John Henry Rew). (Rew played Drew like a campy shrew, i.e., a tornado of limp-wristed flailing, a sort of Platonic Form of mincing queeniness.) A few feet away sits Phoebe (Tara Lynn McQuaid),
whom Stephen is secretly worshipping from afar, and her brother Peter (Gregory Amend, in a performance of heart-piercing understatement), who is also gay and newly diagnosed with AIDS. The object of such comedies, naturally, is for couples like this to meet, the collision here caused by an irate homeless woman (Nancy Heins-Glaser) who storms the restaurant and throws a scene.
After a few tense moments, both gay and straight couples intersect and hit it off, so...
In Act Two, they all retire to Stephen's summer home for a few weeks of sun, flirtation, and wonderfully satiric declarations of yuppie guilt. Joined by the waitress from Act One (the perfectly nutty Susanne Furda), the sextet lounged/pontificated on Quincy Poco Schwantz's terrific beach house setting, complete with stucco walls and a tacky sliding glass door. Between that and the warm, festive lighting provided by Jane Cox, not to mention the colorful beachwear (costumes "coordinated" by Julianne Blake), one felt positively guilty for noticing anachronisms. (Few women wore black nail polish in the 1980s, least of all Wall Streeters like Phoebe.)
One preferred instead to focus (with joy and relief) on the ways the play itself had become an anachronism - the sense of inevitability, say, with which the AIDS-stricken Peter contemplates his future as "a bag of bones and lesions." Embracing Drew as the lights faded, he whispered, "you probably would have been the love of my life." What a difference a decade makes. Had Greenberg dreamed up Eastern Standard just a few years later, Peter might have had the chance to find out.
Copyright 1997 Scott Vogel
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