nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 31, 2006
Emerging Artists Theatre does one-act play festivals about as well as they can be done, it seems to me. Though styles, genres, and participants vary each time they put one of their perennial EATFests together, their winning formula is always in place: the programs are light, short, and easily digestible; the production values are simple and solid; the work is consistently smart and professional, and ditto the artists on stage; and transitions are smooth and easy and never distract from the evening as a whole. Even if you don't like every item on a bill, you're almost certain to enjoy most of them. Mainly, they leave you wanting more, which is tough to do in this particular segment of theatre-making. This year's Fall 2006 rendition, on the basis of the evening I attended, is no exception.
There are four pieces on the agenda in Series A. First up is Barbara Lindsay's Room at the Inn, which is about a 30-ish man who returns to his hometown for a high school reunion with his very pregnant wife, Lola. The play's title offers a hint about the surprise that Lindsay proffers in this whimsical piece, which is quite funny but also manages some serious consideration about what constitutes faith in your husband or wife within a marriage. Roberto Cambeiro is the director, and Damon Boggess, Daniel Carlton, and especially Karen Stanion do fine work here; Stanion delivers another of her patented open-hearted slatterns here, and she's most effective.
Recoil is the evening's sweetest play. Written by Karen Schiff and directed by Jonathan Warman, it's set in a mattress store, where a customer—a slightly distracted middle-aged lady played by Blanche Colet—seems to be unwilling to stop sampling a particular piece of merchandise, even though she's been lying on it for hours. Ron Bopst plays the salesman who tries to talk her down (so to speak) from the mattress she's commandeered. As in most successful 10-minute-style plays, Recoil has a nifty twist that we don't anticipate that makes it special; you'll have to see it yourself to find out what it is. But the piece has genuine emotional weight, which is hard to accomplish in such a short time; and Bopst and Colet, who are neither one the obvious "types" for their roles, offer exceptional performances.
Five Minutes, by Allan Baker, is the longest and most earnest work in this Series. It actually consists of three separate tales, all of them concerning people in a place suggestive of the World Trade Center just after the planes hit on 9/11. Baker explores different strategies that folks might employ in what they are certain are the final five minutes of their lives. I wish he'd moved away from the stereotypes that his three sets of characters suggested to him (he shows us two African American waitresses who find solace in religion, two businessmen who talk about sports and family, and a gay man who seeks comfort in his loving partner). The piece is overly familiar as a result, in a mini-genre that's already well-populated. Nevertheless, Kevin Brofsky directs with sensitivity, and the cast is excellent, especially Sandra Mills Scott and Gameela Wright as the waitresses and Jerry Marsini as one of the businessmen.
The last play, Carl L. Williams's Must the Show Go On, is also pretty derivative, but it's so well-executed and so funny that it's easy to overlook its unoriginal concept. The idea here is that a play's opening night is going disastrously: the technician is drunk, one of the actors has a terrible cold and another doesn't know his lines, the leading lady's costume is broken, etc. Cues are missed, lines are mangled, and catastrophe hilariously ensues. The good news here is that it really is hilarious: Williams's comic ideas are gems, Deb Guston's direction is spot-on, and the performances are fabulous, especially Wayne Henry's as the clueless actor who hasn't learned his role yet. (Paul Adams, Tracee Chimo, and Lee Kaplan complete the cast; they're great too.) Sure, we've seen this kind of thing in Noises Off and elsewhere, but Must the Show Go On is still a hoot and a half, and a delightful way to conclude this evening of fun new work from Emerging Artists.