nytheatre.com review by David DelGrosso
August 18, 2009
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage often counsels his heartbroken readers that, "Every relationship ends. Until the one that doesn't." This is often told to his younger readers, who, in the thick of a first big breakup, are having trouble seeing the big picture, that there will likely be many romances in a life, and therefore many endings, and more chances.
Ben Izzo's debut play Sadie, Sadie is the story of one of those young relationships, a New York City romance between two people in their early 20s. It starts with a chance meeting on the Staten Island Ferry, when the gregarious Sadie (Lilly Tobin) tells a stranger reading a book, Jon (EJ Marotta), that she likes the structure of his feet. This first flirtation leads to a first date, and on through the early months of a struggling relationship.
Sadie is honest about having a lot of emotional baggage, a metaphor that director/set designer Samantha Shechtman makes real by creating the set entirely out of steamer trunks and suitcases that get arranged to fit each location of the play. (This is also a clever choice from a production standpoint, as FringeNYC shows only have 15 minutes to load-in and strike their sets.) Spirited and troubled, Sadie is unlike any woman that Jon has known, but are her eccentricities too much for him to handle?
Izzo has picked an accessible subject for his first play, and has an engaging voice to his writing. But there are some challenges to having the story of this romance carry a full-length play.
Sadie refers to her relationship with her father being the source of her problems, but that baggage never gets unpacked in the course of the play. There is a story there, one that may justify why she is as impulsive and sometimes unreliable as she is, but we never get to hear that story.
Also, I felt we were supposed to believe that Sadie is larger than life, a unique spirit who the grounded Jon has trouble relating to. But Izzo loads a lot of quirks onto the other characters of the play, to the detriment of Sadie being the unusual presence. Should we feel that Sadie is just too strange for Jon, when Henry (Tom McVey), his roommate for years, is so extreme a hypochondriac that he has fits of hysterical blindness, and doesn't go out for months at a time? It would be easier to focus on Sadie as the one unusual person in Jon's life without having such a wacky character already there.
Another quirky character is Sadie's mother Donna (Amy Beth Williams), an alcoholic who drinks something different in every scene and who, when drunk, believes in magic. I felt that, if some of these supporting characters were toned down, Sadie's eccentricities would stand out more, and we could more clearly invest in the question of whether or not she and Jon should be together.
Director Shechtman leads a confident production, and the four-member cast go for these often larger-than-life roles with vigor and aplomb. Tobin and Marotta in particular are likeable and charming leads.
A choice that may have been called for in Izzo's script, or may be Shechtman's invention, I don't know, is that the play has background characters. At times, when Sadie and Jon are having a scene, sometimes even an important argument, the other two actors will make a series of crosses as joggers, tourists, homeless people, businesspeople, etc. This distracts from rather than adds to the scenes (and likely creates a lot of unnecessary quick-changes for McVey and Williams) and is a device better left to movies and television.