nytheatre.com review by Ryan Emmons
August 19, 2009
The new play Photosynthesis by Tim J. MacMillan presents the audience with a quirky world where we can hear the thoughts of a cat, a dog, a plant, a rug, and a bed. Melissa Teittle plays the part of Planko, the plant, spot on—but, despite the title, this is not a play about plants. So if you have a green thumb and are excited to see the synthesis of complex organic materials as live theatre, this might not be the show you are looking for; however, if you are looking for a sweet play about growth and accepting change, than Photosynthesis should definitely go on your list of FringeNYC shows to see this month.
Cassandra, played by Colleen Rebecca Britt, meets Cameron, played by Kena Anae, in the veterinary office, and as their pets fight, the sparks of love ignite and it is only a matter of minutes before a more serious relationship begins. Both have pasts that haunt them and both hold their secrets deep within. The pets and the objects in Cassandra's apartment are aware of her past and serve as physical manifestations of her neuroses, sexual desires, and her ego. The objects are well played and the most fun and interesting part of this production. Planko and Kitler (the cat played by Dana Panepinto) get into a fight and then Kitler proceeds to dig out the soil from Planko's pot—a hilarious situation that many cat lovers can appreciate.
Photosynthesis consists of one of the strongest ensembles I have seen in a FringeNYC production; the actors are strong and even more importantly, they are all on the same page. For me, this is the root of great theatre, when everyone working on a production is reaching toward the same goal and helping each other to achieve it. Dennis Hruska's portrayal of Downy, the depressed rug, is perfectly pessimistic while Deanna McGovern's Carmella (the bed) is as steamy as it is frustrated. Alexander Sapp plays Napoleon, a French dog who is either a self-centered jerk or a sweetheart—you will both love and be frustrated by him, just like any pet you may have at home. All strong performances, but when put together, it is the blend of these performers that creates a magical energy that keeps the audience engaged. Some credit is due director Terry Gsell.
The script itself may be a bit long for what this play is trying to achieve, and there are moments that could be cut to strengthen the story. The trickiest part of the script is the love story between Cameron and Cassandra because they do not really seem very good for each other. We learn early on that Cassandra does not want to be with someone involved in the army because they are often away from home, and Cameron is in the navy. We are told that Cassandra has a bit of a drinking problem, so does Cameron...this hardly makes for a match made in heaven. The kicker is the speech that finally wins Cassandra over in a scene that seems like it was cut from a very crude version of Jerry McGuire. It's not that Cassandra "completes" Cameron, but rather he describes her as a kiwi and admits that he wants to taste her juices. She is wooed by this, and all of the valid reasons she has previously presented as to why they should not be together go out the window.
Overall, Photosynthesis is a sweet play with the ability to inspire those stuck in a rut to get up and move on with their lives, even if what you are moving on to is not perfect. It also might make you think about what your rug thinks of you and how awkward it would be if your bed could talk.