nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
August 12, 2011
Every year at FringeNYC an audience member can find a variety of genres to surprise and entertain them. These range from completely bizarre performance art pieces to kitschy musicals to solo shows to slice of life dramas. Chagrin, a new play by Michael Ross Albert being performed at La MaMa, strives to fall into that last genre. It is the story of 4 former child genius television stars who have come together for an unexpected reunion in their home town of Chagrin Falls under fairly dramatic circumstances. Their key player, Seymour, has been in a car accident that may or may not have been purposeful. This also happens to be around the same time that producers of their old TV show have decided they want to put together a reunion show for the group. It goes without saying that old demons are dredged up and hatchets are bound to be buried.
This is the kind of play that hinges on realistic dialogue and clarity of relationships. Sadly most of the performances miss both marks. The actors' necessity to be in tune with their scene partners was missing from nearly every performance, yet the characters are well written. It was as though the actors hadn't had a chance to connect with the text and then with each other, as if they were under-rehearsed.
Suzy Kimball in the supporting role of quirky, pill-popping Frances is the exception. She has as an off-kilter sensibility that is both realistic, relatable, and, all at once, off-putting. I was enchanted by her short scenes and was disappointed that she wasn't featured more. The play came to life with her first entrance and she stole every scene she was in.
I found that the real details that make such a piece of realism sing were missing in this show. For example, there are multiple mentions of the chilly winter weather yet costumer Lara De Brujin chose to dress all the actors in light summer clothing. No one was wearing a coat. Even when poor Seymour enters the scene in nothing but a hospital gown do any of the actors acknowledge the temperature. In that same vein it appeared that director Adam Levi missed multiple opportunities in terms of staging and clarity of storytelling. It's as if the script and the production team didn't ever sync up.
In spite of the fact that this piece doesn't seem to have had time to gel, the play itself is an interesting one. Four friends who were considered so special for so long that they never needed to grow up into all the potential they were told they had. Adults with every opportunity handed to them who chose substance abuse and solitude to govern their lives because childhood was the only time they were recognized as anything important and so that is where they remained emotionally. Certainly there are some overly complicated plot points and I believe the hour-long run time could be better presented at a solid 45 minutes easily, but Albert has a talent for writing smart, funny and picturesque dialogue. With a little more time and a few cuts this show could really come into its own.