nytheatre.com review by Brett Epstein
May 25, 2012
Every year, there are fewer and fewer small-town diners in America. Yet there is an untapped reservoir of stories in those that remain.
- from the Director’s Note
This reservoir of stories is the basis for Nylon Fusion Collective’s Miss Hope’s, three separate plays—each about 30 minutes and taking place from George W. Bush's term as President through today—written by Alisha Silver, Joseph Samuel Wright and Jack Karp. Miss Hope’s is "a march through innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice reminding us that with broken promises come broken dreams" [program cover]. The director and the company intensely comment on the themes of these new works before they go up. The characters end up doing the same thing—announcing the archetype they’re playing rather than simply letting us figure it out for ourselves.
Act I tells the story of a waitress named Ava (Katherine Barron), her friend/hook-up buddy/dishwasher named Jamie (Dustin Kearns) and a couple who pop in for coffee (the younger Addison played by Madison Comerzan; the older Mr. G played by Chris Cardona). Kearns dishes out an endearingly unaffected performance. He is simple, unassuming and his portrayal has the most "small-town diner life" qualities to it. Cardona, whose Mr. G desperately needs some "goddamn Equal" for his coffee, is on par with Kearns’ ability to portray a low-key but believable character. His desires are small but the laughs are huge as this poor man completely tears at the seams. This act features presentational monologues which neither Comerzan nor Barron makes their own, but as a whole it’s the sharpest piece of the three entries. This is because it focuses on a smaller number of characters than the other two and playwright Alisha Silver keeps you wondering what's brewing beneath the surface between two of them.
Act II involves a local group of townspeople meeting at the diner after opening night of Cabaret. While the play lacks dramatic urgency, there are some compelling performances. Joshua Hinck, too campy at first, is excruciatingly convincing as he tests the waters with his male friend in full "gay-guy-wants-straight-guy" mode. Then there’s Donna Ross, whose work is so pointed and precise. It’s laugh-out-loud funny when she so forthrightly directs the line “Let‘s do better tomorrow” into the eyes of Eileen Lacy’s Miss Margaret, an aging actress in Cabaret. And Kelsey Mahoney brings a three-dimensional quality to her character that's captivating. What else is a single girl to do when her family’s gone, the straight guy’s with his girlfriend, and her gay BFF is being a brat? Eat as many French fries as possible, obviously. I love it.
Act III, which chronicles a waitress (Stephanie Heitman) who dreams of being an actress, starts off strong but loses its way. At the top, it’s like watching insomniacs shoot the shit and it’s kind of fascinating. As Obama is heard on a TV screen, one character offers a stark but realistic worldview: “If he’s elected tomorrow, we’ll still be right here.” The silence that follows puts a different spin on the Obama/Hope hype that swept the nation a few years ago.
As in the first two plays, there’s a major awkwardness that takes over as the characters dive into monologues. It feels like a cop-out, like the playwright couldn’t come up with good enough dialogue so he forces the characters’ dreams, thoughts and opinions into overdone solo acts. In particular, Rachel Buethe and Zachary McClanahan, as a cheerleader and a football player respectively, are jarringly over-theatrical.
Throughout the night, you'll be treated to perfectly laid-back music (sound design: Gisela Fulla-Silvestre) and a constricted yet charming diner atmosphere (set design: Robert Lee Simmons). Plus there are some nice directorial touches, like having the first actress on stage smoking a cigarette during the clever house speech. As a night of theatre, however, Miss Hope's falls short due to the characters announcing their stereotypes and clichés to the audience instead of trusting that we will get them.