nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 4, 2007
We all lose our innocence sooner or later. Most of us try to push for sooner. We can shed this innocence as a teenager, as an adult, or as a country. Reflections of this sort of loss make for some great theatre at one of New York's newest summer theatre festivals now running way downtown at the South Street Seaport.
The evening is made up of several monologues and a few short scenes that are all essentially about loss of innocence. The first segment is a monologue written by Patrick Blake titled First Date. It tracks the slow decline of a young Midwestern girl who has moved to New York to seek her fame as an actor. She ends up settling for more and more degrading jobs and hooking up with more and more influential yet exploitive men until she lands in a rather predictable occupation in a story like this. Hilary Bettis performs the piece rather brilliantly. She brings a chilling honesty to this role. I enjoyed Blake's writing, it is smart and intuitive if not really all that original.
The next two pieces are written by Clay McLeod Chapman. The first, Bridesmaid, is a wedding toast given by the drunken and jealous older sister of the bride and maid of honor. It begins as a typical sort of toast from a family member who's had one too many and is revealing nasty, embarrassing little secrets about the bride, until she reveals one final secret that's way more than a little embarrassing. Tracy Weiler plays this character with perfect drunken poise and a nice Southern accent.
The second Chapman contribution, The Interstate and On, has a young girl reflecting on her ecstatic and tragic prom night. She is pregnant and her boyfriend is driving her to prom...or so she thinks. Kira Sternbach completely embodies the pure joy and the sheer terror in this role. I was moved by her performance. Chapman is a master of the short story format. His writing is dark, unpredictable, and poetic. He has these two characters leave pieces of their innocence buried under a swing-set and scraped on a highway. His pieces were, for me, the highlight of this show.
The final segment is In These Times by Jeff Cohen, and is comprised of four short scenes all about the aftermath of 9/11. Two of the scenes are very short and simple and are solely slices of pure and genuine emotion. One, called "Mothers," has no words—just two mothers watching their children play with the abandon that kids should have while all we see is the pain on the mothers' faces that is somewhat balanced by their delight that their kids don't have to worry about such things...yet. Another, titled "Airplane," is so simple and yet it describes perfectly the fear and tension we all felt every time a plane flew over the city in the months after 9/11.
Cohen's other two pieces are longer and much more detailed. The monologue titled "Teacher" is the initial speech of a teacher new to a class that had their regular teacher dragged off by the cops right in front of them. It begins with her attempting to set the students' minds at ease, but after some time she lets her real feelings be known. This piece has a great twist. Gabrielle Maisels does an excellent job creating a teacher who is so self-righteous and so obviously reeling from the pain and confusion that marked those days.
The final piece, "Cape Cod," is about a man who lost his lover in the tragedy and hasn't been able to get his work done at the office. This one boils down to a beautiful monologue about their last trip to Cape Cod. I wondered if this one could have been just the monologue without the superfluous co-worker part of the scene. Cohen is a brilliant writer and director (he directs all but one of the scenes), lending a clear vision to this production. His staging is straightforward (it has to be in the given venue) and his concepts are lucid and powerful.
I had a great time at this performance. I hope to see this festival continue next summer. You can also check out Cohen's production of Twelfth Night and some late night comedy as a part of this new downtown festival. As a side note, the venue, SPACE, is an art gallery and has some pretty cool stuff hanging on the walls right now. This just makes the experience that much better.