Short and sweet
EATfest: Fall 2007 (Series A)
Emerging Artists Theatre (www.eattheatre.org)
Producers Club, 358 W. 44th St.
Equity showcase (Tue., Fri. and Sat. through Nov. 3rd)
Review by Byrne Harrison
Emerging Artists Theatre is back with their latest EATfest series featuring an astounding 18 short plays over the course of three nights. Series A features six short plays - three comedies and three dramas. While they are not uniformly successful, they give a delightful taste of what Emerging Artists Theatre produces best – short plays, well-crafted.
In Series A, the dramas come out on top. All three, Water and Discarded Hair, National Treasure, and Emily Breathes, are well-written and acted. But it is the first, Water and Discarded Hair by Jessamyn Fiore, that is the most evocative and moving. Two former lovers, one married, the other seriously involved, meet again and the simple act of the woman (Tracee Chimo) giving the man (William Connell) a haircut is enough to remind them of what they had and what each of them needs. Chimo is marvelous as the young woman, unable to decide what she wants. Her expressive face and body language play well with Connell, a more serious and forceful presence. Their chemistry is undeniable, giving an extra sparkle to Fiore's wonderful dialogue. Ably directed by Kel Haney, whose direction at times seems more like choreography and gives the play an almost dreamlike quality, this is the highlight of the evening.
National Treasure by Jon Spano is an interesting study in celebrity, as two strangers meet at the memorial service of a legendary Broadway actress. Melissa (Valerie David), a rabid fan, believes her idol could do no wrong. Barry (Marc Garber), the son that idol abandoned at birth, knows better. At first, Spano's play comes across as light comedy about two people who are complete opposites being forced to interact, uncomfortable as it may be. As Barry's story comes out, however, the comedic façade cracks, revealing all the pain and disappointment that life heaped upon him. Both David and Garber do excellent jobs with their characters. Garber is especially strong when he allows all of Barry's humiliation and anger to show. David is great as the type of motor mouth that one wants to avoid sitting next to at the theatre, or God forbid on a plane, but it is at the end of the play that she shines, as Melissa is forced to choose between comforting Barry and honoring her idol.
Deftly directed by Ryan Hilliard, Matt Cassarino's Emily Breathes is a pleasant surprise. When Bruce (Hunter Gilmore), a young gay man, confronts Father Zach (Greg Homison) during confession, the immediate expectation is that this will be a tale of sexual impropriety between the two. While it is a tale of sexual impropriety, it wasn't between Bruce and Father Zach; it was between Father Zach and Emily, Bruce's mother. It's Bruce's birth that turned his mother from an enchanting young woman to a bitter old one and led Zach to hide away in the church, never trying to contact Emily or his son. Gilmore is excellent as Bruce, still enough of a child inside to need to know why his father rejected him, and Homison is heart-breaking as the priest being offered, not redemption or absolution, but a final chance to make a connection.
The three comedies, The List, Astray, and Tom Cruise, Get Off the Couch, don't make quite the connection that the dramas do. Kristyn Leigh Robinson's The List, in particular, is not well-conceived. At its best, it doesn't aim much higher than sitcom level; in fact it references an episode of 'Friends' where Ross and Rachel have a list of famous people they are allowed to sleep with even though they are dating each other. In this version, Jenny (Maya Rosewood) has an opportunity to sleep with one of the men on her list, Ben Stiller, whom she met while catering his latest film. She decides to do it in order to punish her sports-obsessed, dolt of a husband, Max (Scott Katzman). Neither is particularly sympathetic - Jenny is a game player; Max is a lout. In the end, it's easy to believe that they got what they deserved; Max lost his wife, and Jenny had to sleep with Ben Stiller. Katzman and Rosewood do their best to breathe life into this piece, but between the uninspired script and Molly Marinik’s limp directing, it's just not enough.
Corey Rieger’s Astray suffers a similar fate. An odd acting older woman who calls herself Mom (Geany Masai) moves into Jack’s (Ron Bopst) home after wandering away from Doug (William Reinking), her reluctant caretaker. The how and the why of Mom’s wandering is the punch-line of an overly long joke, which attests to Rieger’s background in sketch comedy. Unfortunately, it isn’t that funny of a joke and doesn’t really justify all the buildup. The actors under Roberto Cambeiro’s direction seem slightly tentative, as though unsure whose turn it is to speak and not willing to jump in for fear of stepping on the next line.
The comedy that gets the most laughs is Kevin Brofsky’s Tom Cruise, Get Off the Couch. Though the story itself is somewhat slight – a Tom Cruise-obsessed man (Joe MacDougall) brings home a guy who looks a little like Tom Cruise (Kaolin Bass), only to have his dog, named - what else? - Tom Cruise (Jason O’Connell), ruin the evening. The play is clever and amusing, and has a suitably fast pace, thanks to first-time director Aimee Howard. MacDougall is amusing as Charlie, especially when he’s in full Tom Cruise apologist mode. Bass does a great job at bemused frustration and works extremely well with O’Connell. It is O’Connell, however, who steals the show as the big, excitable, and overly-friendly dog, Tom Cruise. Brofsky has written some spot on dialogue for him, and O’Connell runs (and jumps, sniffs, and licks) with it.
Although the comedies do not serve as an equal counterbalance to the dramas, there is plenty of quality writing, directing and acting, which is a good indication of what is to come in the rest of this EATfest.
Copyright 2007 by Byrne Harrison
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