New Plays Festival

The Deptford Players
Sanford Meisner Theatre (212/666-6509)
Equity showcase (closes October 26)
Review By Charles Battersby

A vicar, a fairy, and Satan walk into a theatre ... no, it's not the set up for a bad joke, it's a quick synopsis of The Deptford Players' "New Plays Festival," which consists of two one-acts about fairies and Satan and a tiny little farce about a pantsless Vicar.

Forrest For The Trees was allegedly written by contemporary playwright Jeff Berry, but if you sneaked it into a high-school Shakespeare class, no one would realize it wasn't written by the Bard himself. It is by no means a spoof or parody, but rather a cunningly faithful homage to Elizabethan comedy, and features the return of Puck (Jim Wisniewski). Set in the 19th century, Forrest... follows Robin Goodfellow as he schemes to wreak mischief yet again, this time on a railroad baron whose iron railways have split the fairy kingdom (as anyone will tell you, fairies can't cross iron barriers, even if they're only six-inch-high rails). Complete with fairies, young lovers, clownish drunkards, and a father who forbids his daughter to marry, Forrest... is a lovingly crafted deconstruction of its source material. Director Michael Bernstein added a touch of modernism by having the fairies break the fourth wall during their soliloquies and even sit in the audience, but otherwise he presented the play in a fittingly classical manner.

Squeezed in after intermission was Jeff Berry's little farce Oooh, Vicar! Where's Your Trousers? Berry, who also directed the play, showed a firm grasp of farce when he took 300 years of bawdy English comedy and distilled its essence into this 10-minute play. There were (obviously) men getting caught without their trousers, plus a host of characters with silly names like Mrs. Wigglebottom, Mr. Randigoat, and of course Vicar Sanschool. Trousers is one of those words that are inherently funny (particularly when spoken with an English accent), and any play based entirely around a missing pair of trousers is guaranteed to be hysterical.

The final play of the festival was the dark comedy Gentleman and Scholar by John Martin. A scholar (Matthew Nowosielski) finds himself having what he thinks is a perfunctory interview before he is admitted into Heaven. A plot twist or two later, The Scholar finds himself debating the fate of his soul with The Gentleman (Played with polite malevolence by Thomas McCann). While this sort of existential theme has been done before (a bit of Faust here), John Martin does it exceptionally well. Given the fact that the dialog is between an English professor and an omniscient being, it's not surprising that the language is beautifully literate (your new word for the day is "concupiscence") and a trifle long-winded. Director Constance George went for the darker side of dark comedy, and The Gentleman could genuinely put the fear of eternal damnation into the audience (while still getting quite a few laughs).

Lorree True's costumes were perfectly suited to the various time periods of the three plays, and The Gentleman's costume worked magnificently when combined with Michelle Zelinksi's lighting effects, which turned his angelic pastel suit into a glowing red demonic mantle. Zelinski also pulled off a creepy "Gates of Hell" lighting effect, which was integrated into Ed Morrill's set design.

But I digress. So Satan turns to the Vicar and says....

(Also featuring Jeff Catanese, E.F. Morrill, Lorree Ture, Jenny Marie Lambert, Craig Davenport, Bill Weeden, and Dudley Stone.)

  Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby