Static eclecticity

Vital Signs New Works Festival (Series 2)

Vital Theatre Company
432 W. 42nd St., 3rd fl. (212/592-0129)
Equity showcase (closes April 13)
Review by Elias Stimac

For a night of one-acts that featured an ocean view, an existential debate, a spoof of film noir, and an accidental alliance, Vital Theatre Company's second bill in their Vital Signs New Works Festival didn't really go anywhere. Perhaps it was the diversity of stories that prevented it from congealing into a unified whole; or perhaps it was just the wrong choices of material.

One major problem is that the opening piece started too slowly and ran too long. Fish Out of Water, by Payne Ratner, has a promising premise -- an elderly couple reminisce about their lives while on vacation in Florida. As they sit in beach chairs, Harry (Paul A. Zakrzewski) and Marcie (Ruth Jaffe) bicker with and badger one another. Fifteen minutes later something finally happens -- Marcie accuses Harry of cheating on her. Besides the fact that nobody would blame him, Harry denies the charge -- only to let it slip later that he has been sleeping (literally just sleeping) with a woman he knows. One would think that would bring the play to a rousing climax, with Marcie saying "I knew it! I knew it!" and leaving him, but the confession is simply brushed aside as Marcie plots a semi-suicidal demise for herself. What happens next is as clear as the murky seawater, but somehow Ratner and director Emily Tetzlaff concluded the piece with an upbeat ending. The director and her actors did the best they could with the material, but Fish Out of Water really needs judicious editing and a credible resolution to win an audience's full attention.

A Glass of Water is neither half-empty nor half-full -- it's just half-hearted. This avant-garde short play by Dan DeMott was ably acted by David Foubert and Erin Lynlee Partin, who portray two people dropped into a room much like Sartre's No Exit locale. But instead of realizing that hell is other people, they simply can't remember much of anything, and they spend their time trying to figure out who they are and why they are there. An omniscient voice pits them against each other, urging them to fight over the titular object, among other trivialities. The end result is an exercise in futility, with no relevant questions asked, let alone answered. Jason King Jones staged the piece cleverly but couldn't clarify its vague intentions.

Edward Musto at least does his reference material justice in And Everything Nice, but his multiple-chaptered homage to hard-boiled women-in-prison flicks and film-noirish potboilers circa 1950 was out of place in a night of short works. It didn't have enough time to fully explore the genre and tell a satisfying story, and would work better as a full-length piece. Although the characters aren't completely developed in the script, actors Michelle K. Best, Amy Moorman, and Scott Roberts still brought a sense of mischievous menace to their roles. Likewise, director Sam Schacht put some devilish touches on the staging, and had a lot of fun with the melodramatic musical interludes.

The last play on the evening was titled Pedestrians, and that unfortunately was how it was delivered. Five people are reluctantly brought together in Ross Maxwell's play when an object falls out of a building onto the city sidewalk below. Each one relates to the others on the basis of how they reacted to the incident, including two slick-talking businessmen (Erik Kever Ryle and Travis York), a high-brow visiting professor of theatre (LaKeith Hoskin), a toy demonstrator (Nina Magnesson), and the clumsy intern at a department store (Ryan Shrime) who knocked the item out the window in the first place. Some humorous voiceovers (by actress Morla Gorrondona) shed a silly scientific light on the accident. But the fact that the event is so minor and nobody was harmed makes for a very flat storyline, something that director Aimee Hayes and her cast couldn't disguise despite their solid efforts. It would be interesting to see Maxwell's quirky characters interact in a different situation.

The technical elements were all nicely done, including Michael Schloegl's versatile set, Krista Martocci's intriguing lighting, and the uncredited costumes and sound design.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac