nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
July 15, 2007
Rural America, the subject of Jessica Goldberg's play Stuck, is a funny devil. We hear about its power to suck the soul from those of its people cursed with enough self-awareness to realize that they should escape (inevitably to the culture and opportunity of the big city) but without the hope or means to think such an escape possible. Enough of us have stared this kind of thing in the eyes to have a good amount of sympathy for this show, currently being presented by Small Pond Entertainment as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival.
The premise of the play is simple enough: two girls, best friends since high school, dream of escaping the drudgery of their lives and, in doing so, avoiding the fate of becoming stuck. Lula (Hana Mori Taylor) and Margaritah (Amy Lerner) work together at the local video store, get drunk at the local junkyard, and pass the time by playing games, telling stories, and listing reasons not to "end it all." Lula is held down by the dependecy of her alcoholic mother (Deborah Ramirez), while Margaritah busts at the seams of a loveless marriage that has left her with an infant daughter, who she carts around with her wherever she goes. Both girls enter into love affairs that stoke the urge in them to get out. Lula sleeps with Charlie (Tim Meinelschmidt), the father of one of her high school friends, while Margaritah begins a whirlwind romance with George (David Asavanond), a rich Argentinean whose father is linked to atrocities in his home country. Does it sound like all of this will turn out well?
Of course, it doesn't. Because that is Goldberg's point. In the world of this play it is impossible to have anything good in small town America. Even the closest friendships can be poisoned. The only safety exists somewhere else.
This production gives some very nice moments, but is not without problems. For a show about two girls trying to escape, I was more drawn to the older characters who were already stuck. That is, in part, because of the thoroughly engaging performances by Ramirez and Meinelschmidt. The two performances could not be more different, but both give solid homes to the sense of dread that the girls fear. Ramirez's Mom is deliciously larger-than-life, the picture of a sad clown with her recklessly applied then neglected make-up. The most resonant scene of the play comes near the beginning with Mom shouting over a flustered Lula to be quiet so Mom can watch the television. Meinelschmidt exudes a charm that perfectly fits a man who once got out of town but now finds himself back there for good. Both actors are perfect foils to Taylor who does her best work in the scenes with them.
Daniel Waldron's directing is clear and allows the tiny stage to work for him, keeping the action tight and claustrophobic. And Nathan V. Kotch's set design is well-realized simplicity. Overall, given the limitations of a festival production, the cast and crew do admirable work. But, as we heard Tom Waits music between every scene, it clarified something for me: Tom Waits is the songwriter of the adults in this play. The girls' story is sung by Bon Jovi.