A Serious Person and Then Some; Bending All the Rules: A New Musical; Samaritans, Or Where is Sylvia?

TheaterMania’s coverage of the Midtown International Theatre Festival begins with reviews of three new shows.

The cast of <I>A Serious Person and Then Some</I>: Nicholas J. Pearson, Elizabeth Dilley, Jessica Ayers, Loralee Tyson, and Adam Levinthal.
The cast of A Serious Person and Then Some: Nicholas J. Pearson, Elizabeth Dilley, Jessica Ayers, Loralee Tyson, and Adam Levinthal.
(© John Keon)

A Serious Person and Then Some
by Zachary Stewart

A Serious Person and Then Some, John Doble’s new collection of one-act plays, takes on the subject of first dates with only five actors, two chairs, one table, and a handful of props. Expertly acted, the three plays are uncommonly thoughtful for one-acts, even if they do come with a hint of sexism.

The first one, “A Serious Person” is about a first date between an unnamed man and a woman at a coffeehouse. As the title suggests, she is a very serious person, an opinionated liberal with a checklist of must haves and deal breakers when it comes to relationships. She is convinced that all human beings are secretly cannibals at heart. Conversely, he is an urban Republican who doesn’t feel like he has a secret desire to eat people. The scene oscillates effortlessly between date and job interview in the capable hands of Adam Levinthal and Loralee Tyson.

The second play, “Tatyana and the Cable Man,” is a smoke break monologue delivered by Russian immigrant Tatyana (Jessica Ayers). She expounds on her love of CNN and a recent series of dates with the guy who installed her cable. Ayers illuminates the story, making it come alive on stage even though she’s the only one out there — quite a feat considering she maintains a blasé Russian monotone throughout.

“Coffee House, Greenwich Village” is the third and most confounding play. While it has a similar setup to the first (blind coffee date), this one takes a much darker twist, examining the violent tendencies of the human id. Nicholas J. Pearson gives a convincing performance as working-class-turned-sophisticate Jack, while Elizabeth Dilley’s Pamela creeps me out with her wide, mischievous eyes. She’s a modern-day Eve, holding out the apple of temptation for Jack to do horrible things. The Elvis ditty “Devil in Disguise” leaves little room for interpretation about Pamela’s role.

There is a vague misogyny that wafts over all three plays. While Tatyana seems like a real human being (despite her icy Russian demeanor), the woman in the first play is a bipolar control freak, and the woman in the second is the devil incarnate. Doble offers a bold if distinctly un-PC approach to first dates, which will undoubtedly spur conversation…just not the kind you’d want to have on a first date.

Andrew Pichardo in <I>Bending All the Rules</I>.
Andrew Pichardo in Bending All the Rules.
(© Jewel Frankfeldt)

Bending All the Rules: A New Musical
by Zachary Stewart

Bending All The Rules: A New Musical, written by brothers Joe and James Salem, takes a clear-eyed look at relationships for twentysomethings in the big city, with all their variations and complications. With tuneful songs about polyamory, hook-up culture, and “the game,” Bending All the Rules is a stimulating if slightly messy evening of theater.

The piece opens on the handsomely butch Marc (Andrew Pichardo) singing the “After-Sex Song,” a musical walk of shame he croons every time he hooks up with his ex-boyfriend, John (Ryan Neal Green). Jessica (Jessica Lamdon) sings for a different reason: She’s just slept with the boy of her dreams, Rob (Ethan Applegate). That is bad news for her roommate, Sam (Anna Moscovic), who is secretly in love with her. Maybe Sam can get over Jess when she meets the new lesbian on the block, Tammy (Julieta Benitez)…that is if Tammy isn’t too busy sharing her bed with Marc. Wait…but he’s gay, right? His new boyfriend, Tom (played by author James Salem) certainly hopes so.

The couplings change faster than a party dance in a Jane Austen film adaptation. This attractive cast of Hunter College students does a fine job of portraying the college-aged characters on stage. (I assume they’re all students, too, since they drink cheap liquor out of yellow plastic cups and never mention employment.) Moreover, they look like the millennial denizens of New York City.

Joe Salem has composed some beautiful and challenging music to underscore brother James’ nuanced lyrics, which occasionally smack of the informal-yet-brutally-honest style of Jason Robert Brown. Some songs are less successful, like Act II opener “Problems,” which is a bit too on-the-nose to be revelatory in any significant way.

While the cast is a little shaky on Joe Salem’s more complicated harmonies, they make up for it in committed performances of James Salem’s timely book, which is so fresh, it includes references to the May shooting of Mark Carson in the West Village. Twenty-year-old composers/writers/actors can be forgiven for turning in slightly messy work, but it isn’t boring. This first effort by the Salem Brothers is never boring. Let’s hope we hear more from this promising duo.

Quinn Warren of <i>Samaritans, or Where Is Sylvia?</i>
Quinn Warren of Samaritans, or Where Is Sylvia?
(© Kevin Sebastian)

Samaritans, Or Where is Sylvia?
by Bethany Rickwald

Samaritans, Or Where is Sylvia? is currently playing as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival in a tiny house with a set comprised of little more than a doorframe and a chair. It runs 60 minutes and is one act long, and yet the play still manages to feel consequential. The short story would pack more of a punch, however, if the audience weren’t constantly struggling to gain their bearings.

Part of the reason it’s hard to find footing in Samaritans, Or Where is Sylvia? is that the story is intentionally confusing. Sidney, the aged widower who shows up on Hammond and Dizzie’s porch early one morning, is suffering from dementia, and Hammond and Dizzie themselves have spun so many lies around their lives that they seem to be getting lost. To further complicate matters, Dizzie looks exactly like Sidney’s late(?) wife, Sylvia.

This constant peeling back of the multi-layered characters would be a challenge for any actor, but Wayne Paul Mattingly as Sidney and Kevin Sebastian as Hammond manage to pull it off with aplomb. But Quinn Warren does struggle a bit with the paring of her character, oscillating between the kind of woman who dances with an old man in her living room while wearing his dead wife’s clothing and a down-to-earth homemaker.

As one would expect from a play parodying the title of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, the play is basically a series of none-too-good reveals about its characters. Then, a few minutes past the climax, it just ends. There’s no lesson learned and no big denouement. Director Melissa Flower has the good sense to simply bring the play to a close, and as the exit music hints, let whatever will be, be.

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