The Black Box Series, now in its fourth year at The Gallery Players, showcases new plays by emerging playwrights, utilizing the simplest of staging devices. With obviously good intentions and a large, supportive audience, Box 1 was a mixed bag, ranging from embarrassingly amateurish to blatantly derivative to truly inspiring.
Lovers in the Park, by Steven Gridley, is a 10-minute piece about actors playing lovers who meet in the park. The actors' desire to add their own input to the production is constantly squashed by an ominous voice from the booth. Despite these setbacks, the young actors predictably fall in love. Gridley's amusing premise does not go far enough, ignoring many logical comic possibilities, and director Heather Siobhan Curran went for a tried-and-true cute triteness. Michael Burns and Erin Treadway, who have both done excellent work with the Handcart Ensemble this season, are engaging, hard-working performers who deserve better.
John Watts's Conversations With The Past is an ensemble piece that takes place in a seedy bar, with a number of improbable characters. Joey is the hard-bitten proprietor, Donna a prostitute who works the bar, and Christina a young, mildly retarded woman who lives in the neighborhood. A new patron is a successful businessman named Bryan, who is oddly nostalgic for this old neighborhood, where he grew up but luckily has escaped from. Bryan's reminiscences are disrupted by Ronnie, an angry gun-toting customer of Donna's who goes on a shooting rampage. Director Sidney Fortner did her best to bring life and energy to these characters, but the mostly inexperienced actors (with the exception of Herlena A. Lewis's touching Christina) seemed stuck in timeworn stereotypes, and the dull, depressing script dragged. With Joe Amorando, Anthony Bertram, John Solis Ayala, and Emily Tuckman.
Short-Term Affairs, by Donna Spector, was a fresh and original send-up of dating services. Denise is the owner of the Bureau of Short-term Affairs, matching up people looking for a short fling rather than the person of their dreams. Mark, a prospective client, falls hard for Denise after they share their sordid views of relationships but finally agrees to sign a contract for a six-month liaison. Director Ken Terrell maintained a brisk pace, and Ashley Thomas's seductive, fun-loving Denise and Sergei Burbank's smarmy Mark were just about perfect.
Tony Sportiello, whose delightful Second Chance was a highlight of the past season, was back with another winner, Crossed Wires, a poignant tale about the ramifications of losing oneself in cyberspace. Mike has invited his younger sister Cindy, an aspiring writer, to share his apartment rent-free, enabling her to pursue her dreams. He is distressed to find that Cindy is spending 10 hours a day in Internet chat rooms, avoiding friendships in the outside world and distracting herself from writing. In frustration, Mike locks up Cindy's computer, and her anger and subsequent revelations bring a new depth to their relationship. Lee Peters encouraged his cast to unflinchingly explore sensitive issues, and Enzo Gentile's Mike and Nicole Juliett's Libby were truthful, resonant creations.
Creative Daydreaming, by Jack Goodstein, was a blatant ripoff of almost everything Neil Simon has ever written. The tale of a frustrated playwright creating characters who appear in his living room has been seen before in more creative venues. Goodstein and director Ari Laura Keith perpetuated some of the most offensive stereotypes of Jews and African-Americans in recent history, and the hard-working cast, despite some genuinely funny moments, could not get beyond the limitations of the play and its direction. Tony Perucci's Jerry was the universally nerdy Jewish guy - will this stereotype ever bite the dust?, Erin Myers the frumpy, sex-starved wife, Lisa Romain every stereotype one could think of for a black woman, and worst of all, Bernie Feinerman a Borscht Belt Jewish grandfather, Zayde.
Brian Massolini's bright lights were effective against the black set, and the simple set pieces constructed by Robert Campbell, Jorge Castillo, Dominic Cuskern, Lisa Dougherty, Phil Kaspar, Sidney Fortner, and Leonora Radovcic helped create a separate reality for each play.
Set Design 1 in all plays
Costumes 1 in all plays
Light/Sound Design 1 in all plays
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Copyright 2001 Julie Halpern