nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
August 12, 2012
Teenage-dom. The word evokes confusion, resentment and downright fear in some. Max Friedlich understands this well and explores the inner psyches of teens with total honesty in his new play, SleepOver. Friedlich, at age 17, is the youngest playwright in the FringeNYC Festival. But don't judge a playwright by his age, because his writing is strong and he therefore delivers a promising introduction to his ability. As such, he marks his debut with a compelling and poignant piece of theater.
SleepOver opens with Matt, a quirky, nervous teen not yet comfortable in his own skin. His fragile world is shattered when an upperclassman named Theo shows up on his doorstep unexpectedly. It is obvious that Matt doesn't want Theo there and that Theo doesn't care. Theo invites himself over for dinner and then for the night, and then for two weeks. We are never quite sure why Theo is actually there. He hides behind the smokescreen that his house is being renovated. Matt's Mom, Jasmine, is thrilled to have Theo there, hoping he will loosen up her tightly-wound son. For the next 90 minutes we are given a complex view into relationships between peers and parents.
Brandon Reilly as Matt has fleshed out the nuances of a hormonal 16-year-old with great skill. He never loses his character and delivers a top-notch performance with humor, vulnerability and blatant honesty. As his counterpart Theo, Jared Kemp is flawless as well. He captures the intricacies of his role with superb talent. He is obnoxious, outspoken and rough when he needs to be, yet gentle and sincere underneath the macho image that teenage boys seem to be obsessed with. Brandy Zarle as Jasmine portrays the confusion and bewilderment that any parent of a teenager can relate to. All of them shine brightly and have some incredible moments where they bare their souls for us to see. Marcus Maurice, who plays George, Theo's father, is no exception. Although he has very little stage time in comparison to everyone else, he delivers in the climatic scene and makes his presence known.
The dialogue sometimes feels forced and jarring. The actors seemed to have moments of disconnect. It is hard to tell whether its the writing or the actors who falter here. But when they're on target, they produce incredible moments of hilarity and vulnerability.
It was never clear to me why Theo picked Matt's house to crash. It is vague as to how Theo even knows Matt, in any meaningful way, given that these two adolescents would not mix with each other. Not only are their personalities different, but they are in different grades. I would have liked to know more about how Theo came to choose Matt's house and why Theo felt he needed to be removed from his house for almost two weeks.
Nevertheless, Friedlich should be very proud of SleepOver. He makes his launch into the theater scene with promise and power. At the performance, he had many cheering friends and supporters. But he deserves it as he gave us all something to cheer about. Be on the lookout for this rising star!