nytheatre.com review by Brett Epstein
August 21, 2012
Although it has been done many a time before, an artistic examination of antsy, complex twenty-somethings is topical and valid— especially as part of the FringeNYC Festival, attended by so many young New Yorkers. But 20 Somethings, Evan Sanderson's second play, is undone by generic performances and a script desperately missing fleshed-out characters, moments and details.
The play follows James and Reese, an attractive young man and woman played by Benjamin Drew Thompson and Marie Pollizano. They first interact while playing an Xbox Live game in different locales—he is interrupted by an annoying roommate; she fiercely dominates although she's a woman who has never played the game before.
They eventually meet in real life and we witness two things for the next hour: 1) these characters going through various ups and downs on a very bumpy road to a working relationship, and 2) these actors struggling to add weight to a script that too often opts for corny, empty or over-the-top setups (lines like "Friday night drink specials! Whaaat Whaaat!"; backstories like a dead family member; flashbacks like two girls accidentally punching another in the face) over genuine emotional substance.
What could have been an enticing Meet Cute between the two leads never lands. Instead, artifice and a vibe of "this is a play, not real life" lands and lingers. Thompson overdoes it, stumbling through a first date scenario while playing for laughs. He hams it up further when James repeatedly reveals information he shouldn't about an arranged marriage. Why he didn't get the clear signals from the other characters is one of the many unclear acting or directing choices of the evening. (It doesn't help that during this dinner sequence, the script veers into a theatrical "Fight" presentation—complete with three "rounds"—which is visually stimulating but takes us further away from truthful connecting and dialogue.)
It is certainly valid to present awkward conversations amongst characters; it can be completely endearing. The problem here is that the actors don't maneuver the awkward dialogue with a sense of ease. Instead they rush through it, sans subtext or layers. Just when the dialogue gets painfully inelegant (in a lovely way), the actors fail to deliver. Just when the actors rise to the occasion, the dialogue is off-putting. Somehow, "Actors" and "Script" rarely mesh.
The supporting cast doesn't fare much better. The other females (Reese's BFFs, a girlfriend of James's neighbor) are presented as bitchy, narcissistic shrews or alcoholics. The men are articulate and likable but the performances from Vishal Vaidya and Viet Vo are one-note.
On the plus side, a moment involving James and Reese at a therapist's office is insightful. The therapist's refusal to give any real answers provides a hilarious neutrality. And director Ameneh Bordi uses the stage creatively: actors share a couch even when not in the same place (separate apartments and therapists) and living rooms gracefully become bars in orchestrated scene changes.
Pollizano is a standout as Reese. Although her choices are small (perhaps better suited for film), she never fights for laughs or tears. She lets her character (and the script) b-r-e-a-t-h-e.
But notice when the actors hold cups that are meant to have liquid in them. The cups are empty but there is supposed to be an illusion that they're full. The actors move the cups around as if there's nothing in them, which would in return spill all the liquid out. It's this lack of attention to detail—moment after moment after moment—that left me wanting so much more out of 20 Somethings.