It’s brave for a playwright, especially a New York playwright, to create an unambiguously happy work in this day and age. Eric Alter does it in Something About You and the Fourth of July, a play that unabashedly celebrates love, passion, art, and all that.
Sketch (Daniel J. Scott) is having a bad life. He’s an artist who not only can’t sell a painting, but is enduring the horrors of artist’s block; for most of the play a blank canvas stares at him relentlessly from one corner of his crummy apartment. He’s not doing too well at his day job, which he shares with his ambitious childhood friend Chince (Larry Karpen). His Dad (Michael Kerns), a rigid Man In a Suit type, doesn’t approve of anything he does. Worst of all, he’s broken up with his sexy girlfriend, the Catherine Zeta Jones look-a-like Elisabeth (Desiree Cobb), and his heartbreak seems to be the fount of all his other problems. One night he meets the delicately pretty but blind writer Remi (Mary Sheridan) and the world changes.
The play follows Remi and Sketch’s sweet and nearly old-fashioned courtship (their first date is to a park; they sleep with each other only after weeks of going out). In the meantime Sketch’s other pals, the Bible-misquoting Preacher (Aarion Kion) and Cookie (Jason Romas), along with Remi’s sister Susan (Heather Sabella) and their friend Kyra (Bunita Tilley), act as a comic, nervous, orbiting Greek chorus. Alter’s wit and insight keep the dialog from being sitcommy or bathetic, even when Sketch visits his mother’s grave, red rose in hand, to have a little talk with her about his new lady. This scene was also saved by Bornstein’s clever direction. She had the couple’s friends comment on their relationship from different places all over the stage. Lighting designer Jamie Kimball’s spotlight fell on them one at a time.
Scott was adorable as Sketch. With not one ironic bone in his body, his despair, frustration, rage, compassion, and above all his deep, adolescently intense love were genuine and raw. Sheridan’s Remi was waiflike, but as she tells the perpetually worried Susan, not helpless. Sheridan brought out the character’s intelligence and even a certain toughness. While the other actors were also good, Romas was a scream as Cookie, Sketch’s big-hearted, wise-cracking gay pal.
This brings up a small quibble; Alter rather too strictly separates his characters into those who are nice and those who Are Not. The audience is not supposed to like Sketch’s Dad, or Chince, especially after a drunken scene when he and Sketch finally celebrate a sale and spill some unpleasant truths. Elisabeth is a horror; when she shows up late in the play to wreck Sketch’s life it seems preposterous that he ever considered dating such an evil wench. The most complex character is Susan; Remi calls her “the warden,” and for good reason. Her overprotectiveness of her nearly thirty-year-old sister is irritating, but it’s also clear that she acts, mostly, out of fearful love. Remi’s fragile loveliness, fluty voice, and the fact that she was orphaned in childhood might be flirting with stereotype (she could have looked and sounded like the voluptuous Elisabeth, after all), and Sketch doesn’t have to have the black and gay sidekicks to show that he’s a nice, liberal guy, but no matter. Alter does make his Nice People folks the audience want to spend time with. They’re not too good to be true.
Kimball’s lighting design had a nearly cinematic quality to it, with rapid blackouts that jumped all over the stage, from Remi and Susan’s place on stage right to Sketch’s place on stage left, to the balcony that overlooked the stage where Chince makes his increasingly frustrated cell phone calls to his twitterpated artist friend. Using shabby, overstuffed couches and chairs, set designer Nicholas L. Troccoli evoked the domiciles of struggling artist types. The music, though canned, was appropriate and often funny; one comic, poignant scene had Sketch wailing along with Air Supply’s “I’m All Out of Love,” using Elisabeth’s old hairbrush as a microphone. Alter says his intent is to make the theatergoer walk out of the theater feeling better than when she came in. In Something About You and the Fourth of July, he succeeds.
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Copyright 2003 Arlene McKanic