nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 15, 2008
Eastcheap Rep's new play Natalie is inspired by an article that appeared in the New York Times in 2007 (by David Brooks, called "The Odyssey Years"). The thrust of the article and the play is that young people in their 20s, who once jumped headlong into adulthood and its trappings (career, marriage, children) nowadays often inhabit a different, transitional phase ("odyssey"). Natalie, the protagonist of this drama, is on a quest to both enjoy herself in her 20s as much as possible and delay the acquisition of responsibilities and attachments that might tie her down.
She emerges as a character we like and care about (as opposed to a case study), which is to Eastcheap's credit; the play has apparently been created collaboratively, and it's a tribute to their process (which would be interesting to learn more about) and to the excellent work of director Chris Chaberski that they've crafted a story that's compelling and believable. Sally Jackson is particularly effective in showing us Natalie growing up, by which I mean that the more-or-less untroubled, carefree recent college grad in the early scenes is appreciably different from (though organically an antecedent of) the sadder-but-wiser woman trying to gain control over her life in the final scenes.
Most of the play is set in the NYC apartment that Natalie shares with her gay roommate/BFF Sam, and even though that central relationship smacks of cliche, the work of Jackson and Peter Chenot—who gives a performance of remarkable depth and humanity as Sam—helps the production transcend formula. That said, I would have liked to know more about Sam: granted, the play is called Natalie, but Chenot makes this young man so interesting and likable that I wanted more detail about who he is (and a glimmer of a life for him beyond his role as an enabler for his dysfunctional straight girlfriend).
The third cast member is Luke Rosen, who plays four different men in Natalie's life. Vern is a prospective roommate recruited from Craigslist; Octave is a would-be one-night stand with a passion for a band called "Franz Kafka's Men"—these two characters amount to comic relief. But Bert, Natalie's well-put-together brother, and Brian, her college boyfriend, are convincing additions to the tale who help our heroine complete her odyssey, as it were.
The play's conclusion seems to be that, valid phase or not, the Odyssey Years are hell. My guess is that all of the folks involved with Natalie have transitioned out of them. I suspect that a play written by someone right in the middle of their own odyssey might offer a different perspective.