One of the great things about the New York theatre scene is the constant influx of young, fresh, new talent. At times, the city is fairly inundated with it. This lends itself well to festivals of new works, which offer young writers and actors an outlet and offer the audience new faces and new insights (often at bargain prices). Vital Theatre Company presents a semi-annual festival; this is the seventh, featuring four series of four short plays each. Series 1 comprised Suicidal Fags and the Death of God, Morphs, The Honey Makers, and Angels, Laws and Miracles.
Suicidal Fags and the Death of God, by Ross Maxwell (directed by Shane Brown; with Michelle McGuire, Ashby K. Sallenger, Vanessa Shealy, Paco Tolson, and Jennifer Wren), is the funniest and most incisive of the bunch. Two jaded über-hip Manhattan artists go to the far hinterlands of Texas, anxious to view the latest theatrical "happening" at a former penitentiary, now an artists’ colony. They unknowingly stumble into a real, live execution, and wax poetic about the "experiential, living theatre" and "supporting our national institutions" while the mother of the killer’s victim looks on, horrified. When they realize they have just witnessed a fairly gruesome (and real) death, they shrug, wonder if there will be wine and cheese after, and declare South Texas to be the new Lower East Side. Rather shopworn humor, especially for theatre insiders, but it’s witty and the actors had the necessary comic timing to pull it off.
Morphs, by Ty Adams (directed by Allison Talis; with Tom Bozell, R. Paul Hamilton, and Jennifer Monaco), is the most ambitious but also the most overwritten. A young, naïve girl is trapped by her abusive uncle, and to escape, she daydreams about getting a job as a tour guide in a research laboratory. Her boss, the attractive and charismatic research scientist, tries to manipulate her and she tries to stand up to him. He makes her realize that she must confront her reality before she can move forward in her dreams. It moved slowly and haltingly, and reached its predictable conclusion long after the audience had grown bored with it.
The Honey Makers, by Deborah Grimberg (directed by Jorinde Keesmaat; with Craig Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth June, Krishen Meht, and Gordon Stanley), is about an Indian couple in London, emigrated from Uganda, with a small shop. When a beehive develops in their backyard, she calls a man to come and collect the bees. He keeps asking innocent but rather ignorant questions about India, about their former shop, about their customs, while she keeps explaining that they are from Uganda and that they were university professors there. But a young skinhead, displaying a much more blatant and virulent form of racism, breaks in and terrorizes them, wanting cigarettes and cracking "Paki" jokes while his mates spray-paint the store. It sets up an interesting contrast between the subtle, well-intentioned forms of racism and the more violent kind. Again, however, it’s overwritten and lacks forward movement, and the actors seemed more worried about maintaining their accents than with portraying their characters.
The final piece, Angels, Law and Miracles, by Seth Kramer (directed by Bob Jude Ferrante; with Mary Ann Anderson and Tom G. Constantin), is the shortest but the least active. A man in the prime of his life is wasting away in a hospital, afflicted with an incurable brain tumor. He bonds with his nurse during her daily visit; she encourages him to call his rabbi, but he refuses, because he is angry at God. After she tells him about her daughter’s brain tumor, he relents, and has her call the rabbi. Yet another predictable (and sappy) conclusion, but Constantin did an excellent job as the dying man.
Overall, the acting was satisfactory and the direction made excellent use of the small space. The writers all show promise, but the first piece was definitely the most effective, and showcased the most-accomplished actors of the evening. It will be interesting to see what Vital Theatre Company does with the remaining three series of works.
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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman