All you can eat

EATFest: Spring 2006 (Series C)

Emerging Artists Theatre
Theatre 5
311 W. 43rd St. (5th fl.;; 212/247-2429)
Equity showcase (Tues., Fri., and Sat. through Mar. 26)
Review by Byrne Harrison

The final three plays of the Spring 2006 EATFest investigate some interesting topics -- dealing with difficult secrets, obsessive love, communication problems -- and each of them approaches these subjects in a different manner.

The first play of the evening was Emily Mitchell’s What We Talk About, directed by Ian Streicher. The play, narrated by Maggie (Jenny Lee Mitchell), follows her struggles as she finds out she has cancer and has to tell her mother (Vivian Meisner). (Also featuring Blanche Cholet and Betty Hudson as her mother’s best friends.) Emily Mitchell should be lauded for creating older characters who are interesting, humorous, and not stereotypes. Given the weighty nature of the play’s main themes -- dealing with cancer, the inability to communicate with someone you love -- the play is surprisingly light and amusing, due in no small part to Jenny Mitchell’s wry delivery and the banter between the three older ladies. Unfortunately, it is during the more serious moments that the play falters. Maggie’s asides to the audience are appropriate during the most of the play, but during a serious conversation with her mother, these interruptions spoil the inherent drama of the scene. The play ends on a strong note, however, with an exquisitely crafted moment where Maggie, separated from her mother, who is on the opposite side of the stage, begins a sentence that her mother finishes. It was very touching.

Touching moments are not to be found in The Test, directed by Chris Maring. In this Albee-esque play, playwright Caitlin Mitchell introduces Charles (Kyle T. Jones), his best friend Mikey (Brian Louis Hoffman), Mikey’s girlfriend Claire (Kelly Scanlon), and Charles’s girlfriend Frances (Maya Rosewood). Thinking that this is merely an opportunity to meet Mikey’s current girlfriend, Charles is shocked to find out that Mikey is not only engaged, but about to move across country. In an attempt to keep his best friend -- who, as it turns out, saved his life as a child -- Charles drives a wedge between Mikey and Claire, crushing their relationship and inadvertently his relationship with Mikey. Unfortunately, this wedge, in the form of a personality test Charles administers on the group, is too far-fetched and the damage it causes too unbelievable.

Jones played his character a little too broad, but he did a good job with Charles’s creepy, obsessive moments. Rosewood’s frosty but remarkably self-aware Frances was an interesting contrast to the other characters. Hoffman and Scanlon played off each other well, with Scanlon’s Claire eliciting suitable sympathy as her character is demeaned and her relationship ripped apart.

The evening’s final play was the amusing Mom, Stoned by Bekah Brunstetter. Free-spirited Bess (Stacy Mayer) has come home for Thanksgiving and has to spend it cooking with her uptight and judgmental mom (Michele Fulves) and grandmother (Rhoda Pauley). Tired of the same superficial conversations, Bess kidnaps the turkey, and threatening to ruin Thanksgiving for everyone forces her mother and grandmother to have some real conversation about real issues. As the truth comes out, followed closely by a joint, the women get stoned and finally experience a little of the fellowship that Bess has been craving.

This character-driven play gives the actresses many opportunities to show off their comic abilities, which they did quite successfully. Pauley, in particular, seemed to be having a great time when her character finally cuts loose. Mayer showed good comic timing and was especially funny when Bess is exasperated.

With its use of narration, its themes of secrets and families that can’t communicate, and its use of older characters, Mom, Stoned served as a bookend with What We Talk About and ended the evening on a strong note.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison