Voices from the edge

Enter Pissarro

By Keith Powell
Directed by Keith Powell
Valhalla Theater Company
Access Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Enter Pissarro has many characteristics typically associated with Off-Off-Broadway: it's surreal, meditative about life and art and the connection between the two, and it both honors the theater's past (in this case, Waiting for Godot) and looks to the future with its experimentalism.

Which does not mean it's an indisputably great play with universal appeal. Some construe the aforementioned qualities as rambling and self-indulgent. But for those who believe Off-Off-Broadway should be the province of the unconventional, the esoteric, and the contemplative, Enter Pissarro would be a standard-bearer. In other words: for what it is, it was done well.

Commissioned by the Wilmington (Delaware) Drama League and winner of multiple awards at theater festivals in Wilmington and Philadelphia, Enter Pissarro revolves around three people in present-day Manhattan awaiting a visit from Camille Pissarro, the 19th-century French Impressionist. Mark, a painter; Sal, his half brother; and Louise, Sal's girlfriend, had all met with Pissarro a year ago when his portrait of Louise was unveiled. Over the course of the 90-minute play, the quick-changing scenes touch on issues from artistic inspiration to relationship anxieties to parental abandonment to miscommunication to the pitfalls of idolization. Some of it's fantastical, some of it's derivative, but most of it's intriguing enough, it does deliver an emotional payoff, and, above all, the movement and mood were keenly executed by cast and crew.

Like any good OOB show, Enter Pissarro showcased promising young talent. Everyone in the cast was either a recent graduate or current student of NYU's theater program, and though they didn't knock your socks off, all gave studied performances that exposed a willingness to take risks. Kate Donadio had to play both sympathetic and bitchy; Bradley Fleischer revealed emotional depth; John Lamson showed that his onstage personality and looks are definitely leading-man material; and Matt Sergi provided strong support in his character roles.

Enter Pissarro also illustrated the proficiency and inventiveness of Off-Off-Broadway's technical artists-and gave a lesson to those OOB companies that skimp on production details (and let their shows suffer for it). Valhalla Theater Company is presumably no richer than the average OOB troupe, but it made sure to use qualified specialists-not just the actors or director doing double duty-for lighting, sound, set design, and costumes (it also employed a choreographer, a dramaturg, and two stage managers). Their contributions greatly enhanced the production, particularly the sound design by Matthew Ezold-which featured realistic and appropriately volumed background "noise" such as rain and party chatter as well as music ranging from classical to pop-and the lighting work by Brian Patrick Byrne that beautifully handled challenges like intercut vignettes, flashbacks, and simultaneous entrances from different sides of the stage.

(Set, Samuel C. Tresler; costumes, Nicole Eberhardt; assistant director, Erin Woodward)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2001 Adrienne Onofri