American Sideshows

IRT/New Directions
(Four short plays by Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Dresser, Nancy Beverly, and John Attanas)
Samuel Beckett Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Even though this evening of one-acts gave top billing, no doubt because of her name value, to Oates, honors for most original and at the same time most heartfelt play go to John Attanas, long-time IRT veteran (and contributor to oobr).

Many original one-acts fall into regrettably obvious categories, notably Grad Student Plays and Plays About TV. The former (strong on symbols, hold the humanity) are typified by Oates's offering, "Here She Is!" (directed by Eliza Beckwith), a fantasy in which a middle-aged married woman finds herself crowned Miss America -- she realizes it can only be because she is a character in a fantasy of her mother. But the dream refuses to stop.... (Good work by Charles Loffredo as the M.C., in a beautifully plastic-looking toupée.)

"Attack of the Moral Fuzzies" by Nancy Beverly and "The Road to Ruin," by Richard Dresser (directed by Kevin Shine), show the heavy influence of TV. The former is set in a quiz show in which the contestant has to make choices about the great issues of the day in the face of people whose lives will be irrevocably affected by those decisions. The cast of eight showed good definition of their often tiny roles, and director Jenny Psaki kept things moving. Dresser's play derives heavily from The Twilight Zone, as a yuppie couple find themselves with a dead car in a gas station in that ultimate pesthole, Jersey City. The rather predictable ending didn't spoil the fun had by not-so-dumb-as-he-looks mechanic Fred (Tony Zaccaro) and his cynical boss Jimbo (Darryl Brown).

But Best Of Show goes to Attanas for his "Hermione" (directed by Loffredo), largely because he managed to wriggle out of any stereotypes and wrote an original piece that still had a heart. In so doing he also wrote a virtuoso vehicle for James Sutton, lost in his previous incarnation as the ineffectual husband in "The Road to Ruin."

The play is a monolog about a guy's love life. Poor Freddy is so ugly and unconfident that the only woman he can have a relationship with is one he meets professionally -- he as a nurse's aide ("rectal engineer") and she as a coma patient. He embroiders their fantasy relationship until they are on the point of being married, at least in his mind. (The play featured hilarious turns by Ted Brunson as his only friend -- a puppet! -- and Grant McKeown as Father Abromowicz, who can only communicate via charades.) Someone could label this a Grad Student Play, if the character played by basset-hound-mournful Sutton weren't so universal. But its universality rises above its oddity and Freddy's final consumption by fantasy takes on the flavor of epiphany.

A few curtains and some set pieces made do for scenery (Jaki Johnsen) and worked fine for the whole evening. Lighting (Frank DenDanto III), always a fight with the vertical at Theatre Row venues, was bright and cheery for "...Fuzzies" and mysteriously dark and lumpy for the others. Sound (Frank Calo) largely consisted of recorded circusy music and tied the various pieces together effectively. Costumes (L. Michael LoPresti) were varied and colorful.

Complaints about the choice of material aside, the company did a fine job of keeping the afternoon moving and animating the sometimes thin characters therein. (Also featuring Michelle Esrick, Leslie Anderson, Tim Covington, Jenine Mayring, Borden Hallowes, Judy Stone, Cindy Chesler, Judine Richard, Sandra M. Bloom, and Richard Willett.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton

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