Mixed nuts

Love Among the Squirrels

By Eric Alter
Sanford Meisner Theater
164 11th Avenue
Non-Equity production (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac

An evening of eight original one-acts, Eric Alter's Love Among the Squirrels portrays a wide range of characters and situations. Don't go looking for a common theme or tone; like their titular counterparts, these pieces are all over the place.

The opening play, Familiar, starts with an awkward subway encounter between Roger (Chris Lucas) and Sharon (Martha Holmes). The subway car was inventively recreated, but the story line soon became repetitious and predictable. Alter's surprise ending was apparent early on, making the final revelation anticlimactic. Smoothly directed by Gerard Mawn, actors Lucas and Holmes did develop a friendly chemistry as their characters make their way home.

The Bright Eyed Boy, forcefully staged by Robert Sullivan, depicts a surreal dialogue between nameless soldiers (Sullivan and Matt McCarthy, both strong in their roles) on opposites sides of war. Alter injects some touching moments when the men realize they have more in common than they thought, but the overall harshness of the scene (plus a monotonous video display) quickly became off-putting. Original lighting was provided by David J. DaSilva, and Suzanne McGorry contributed clever costumes.

An elevator is where Edward (Larry Shagawat) discovers Humility Between 7th and 8th. Devilishly directed by Paul Russell, Alter's comic look at a voicebox that offers advice is fresh and funny. Adding to the enjoyment was Jason Romas's hilarious timing as the voice of Larry.

Confession, directed by  Russell, is a brief interlude between a priest (Mark Liebert) and a young man (Jason Romas again, this time appearing on stage). The characters are interesting, but the short length made the piece play more like a sketch than a fully-developed premise.

Act Two of the bill opened with Love Among Squirrels. Helmed by Juliana Farrell, this session between patient Sam (Bill Edwards) and his therapist (Wind Klaison) is thoughtful and tight. Alter's observations on relationships are offered with uncompromising accuracy. Costumes by Suzanne McGorry add to the credibility, and the action was enhanced by Bruce Engler's original music.

The most hilarious play of the night was Battles Inside the Cerebral Cortex, written with originality and wit by Alter and staged with comic flair by Jenn Bornstein. Stephanie (Stacey Albenice) and Tyler (Joe Ranioa) are out on a dinner date, only Stephanie is not into Tyler as much as Tyler is into Stephanie. Enter Stephanie's Guilty Conscience, humorously embodied by Jennifer Crane. Soon after, the girl's Non-Guilty Conscience, caustic and comically played by Takemma Morton, appears to fight for Stephanie's right to leave Tyler for Michael (Jason Romas) without a shred of remorse. The actors all scored with their portrayals, Bornstein kept the action light and lively, and Alter hits the comic bull's-eye with this winning piece.

As quickly as Battles Inside the Cerebral Cortex brings audiences up, "The Sparrow House" brings them back down. Darkly directed by Lauren Moran, Alter's disturbing drama finds two battered children, Sara (Emma Rosenthal) and Sean (Austin Colaluca), planning to escape from a dungeon-like room. The kids were believable in their roles, but the play on the whole is an uncomfortable miscue, and even the last-minute plot twist can't redeem it.

Knockout, with staging based on original direction by David Sinkus, featured an intriguing pair of actors (Melissa Pellechio and Michael Moller) domestically disputing in a waiting room. The fists and accents between Pellechio and Moller flew with a flourish of comic charm. However, Bill Edwards as the doctor was too over-the-top at times to be effective.

Settings by Todd Mills were versatile and inventive, particularly the opening sequence where a subway car becomes a city street. Mills's lighting added to the ambiance of each scene. Larry Wilbur provided the crisp sound design.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac