Pulp Fiction

The New Artists' New Play Festival (Week Two)

The Atlantic Theatre Co. Studio
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

This evening of four one-acts began with They Eat Their Young, by Liz Bartucci. It's Wednesday evening, and Dominick (Joe Materese) has come to hang out with Anna Eve (Elena Katzap), who is being her usual antisocial self and hiding on the fire escape. In an implausible and metaphor-laden encounter, they narrowly avoid leaping off the fire escape in a suicide pact and discover that they really do love each other.

Bartucci has constructed a play with a beginning, middle, and end, and has certainly raised the "stakes" (in playwriting-group parlance), but the play isn't convincing. A dramatic arc is good, but sometimes putting its endpoints so far apart makes it sag in the middle.

Materese and Katzap were convincing in their opaque characters. Director Rich Gershberg seemed to have divided the play into ponderous beats. Plays that deliberately cloud their characters' motivations, so as to clear them all up at the end, don't leave actors (or audiences) much light to steer by.

Lost Creek, by Eileen Chang (featuring the author; directed by Susanne Boulle), showed what makes such evenings worthwhile. In it a young, middle-class Chinese-American woman (apparently in her late teens) explores her fantasy to be a country-and-western singer. This is more than that staple of playwriting groups, the dramatic monolog (though more err on the side of monology than drama). The material and performance were funny, touching, and fresh, and, above all, rang true. Ms. Chang showed that simplicity and truth often go hand-in-hand to the dramaturgical winners' circle.

Residual Checks, by Nick Webb (directed by Darold Francis Holloway), puts together two more characters in extremis. A washed-up actor, Mike (J. Michael Zally), is about to go to jail for slapping around his ex-wife. His old buddy Tony (Ross Haines in a subtle performance that saved the day) has come to visit LA from New York.

Tony has given up a life as a two-bit hoodlum to get a master's degree in acting. Now he wants Mike to help get him work, so he can pay off his student loans and take his family to Montana, to teach acting in a state college. The author gives the impression he knows more about the realities of being an acting student than of being a hoodlum.

Godgoo, written and directed by Edmund Lingan, shows the grim realities of room-mate incompatibility. Jeremy, in a zany, over-the-top performance by Troy Acree, is trying to get God to descend. To this goal he is performing ritual sacrifice (of a rubber chicken and macerated Twinkies). Room-mate Ralph's interests lean more toward German porn, the proper viewing of which needs peace and quiet. Unfortunately, Ralph (Alvin Lotspeich) is big and strong enough to put Jeremy in a headlock.

But wait! The sacrifice is semi-successful. The minor deity Sybil (Risa Lingan) comes to Earth. Unfortunately, she prefers Ralph to Jeremy, who must now walk the lonely path of the Messiah, scorned and rejected of men.

"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate. In art, it isn't necessarily gritty naturalism or autobiographical narcissism. It's certainly elusive. It's easier to define by example (Lost Creek) or by its absence (the other plays).

The minimal production values mostly sufficed, with the exception of the lighting, where the idea of a cool wash and a warm wash turned into a warm side and cool side to the stage, so that actors crossing it were yellow on stage right and blue on stage left (and dark gray up left).
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 1999 John Chatterton