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Bigger Than i

nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
August 14, 2012

What is bigger than I? "I" being each of us, our individual identities that we spend a lot of time on, who else? But we do need our families and friends, we need to navigate all the hazards of being with others so we can find love, what we all need. And then we want to protect ourselves and the closest to us, from pain. It isn't easy being "I."

The story here centers around a brother and sister, somewhat estranged over an incident from many years before, something they have agreed not to speak about ever again; except things change. Olivia has come to seek out her brother Tom and she want to tell him something.

He wants none of it, and it only after Olivia works her way through encounters with the different characters in her constellation of friends that that truth is revealed and some resolution is reached.

I'm not going to reveal her secret, or any secrets, that's not the point. The point is what happens when she tells everyone; what do they do? The writing is sometimes funny, the scenes sometimes well wrought but as a play, with an arc of action, conflict, drama, tension and catharsis, this is a series of good scenes, clever staging and pleasing enough, but disconnected, missing a strong dramatic cohesiveness. I would love to see a better handling of the source of the estrangement, which we are teased with for a frustratingly long time and then anticlimactically given some unsatisfying details about.

What does pay off is the excellent acting and directing, complimented by intelligent design elements—lighting, sound, set and costumes. Director Joshua Chase Gold keeps the pace brisk and theatrical, and the players moving fluidly from scene to scene. John Upton's lighting works well throughout. If he is responsible for the video, it worked for me at times, at times it seemed distracting, mostly distracting. The musical accompaniment and song tracks, are not attributed but do enhance the action nicely.

Elizabeth Neptune, as Olivia, is clearly the solid and mature sibling.  A third grade teacher, she's somewhat prepared to deal with her egomaniacal and immature brother as well as her painter roommate who is or was at one time a lover. Carole/Nigeria, the artist roomie, is delightfully obsessive and egocentric and Georgina Richardson creates a colorful character. Ryan Nicholoff is charming and dynamic as hyper-focused Tom, a chef for whom sex triggers a great urge to cook, and he forages for what might be wrought from a lover's pantry.
Matt Greenbaum is solid as Robert, former lover of Carole/Nigeria and Olivia's friend and empathetic ear. He too has a secret to share.

The cast is rounded out by two wonderfully versatile players, Natalie C. Allen and Nick Sprysenski, both of whom bring lively color and distinction to the supporting characters.

There is no one writer and that is evident. Counting Squares Theatre is mainly focused here on acting and good scene work. There is unnecessary digression and clutter in the telling of the tale, but at least it's interesting clutter. The story is worthwhile, and it's a pleasure to watch these fine actors work. I would love to see Bigger than i move towards a tighter and more powerful play, but for now, at FringeNYC, it is well worth the price of admission.