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Johnnie Moore, Zandy Hartig and
Christopher Cartmill in Barton's Crossing
(Photo © Ric Kallaher)
According to certain pundits, America's in the midst of another culture war between the cosmopolitan blue states and the rural reds. Even New Jersey gave the Dems a narrower margin of victory this election year. D. Clifford Hart's Barton's Crossing, a story of a New York playwright and social worker who moves deep into the Garden State suburbs, could have been timely if not for the terrible writing, acting, and direction.

As the play begins, Peter Barton (Christopher Cartmill) is visited in Miller's Crossing by his old friends George (Peter McCabe), Lionel (David Fuhrer), and Melinda (Alexandra D. Levinsohn). They have come to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his hit play Prince Gregory, about a young man who leaves his comfortable background to help the underclass. Now, Peter is living his character's story in reverse: He quits his job at a methadone clinic to settle down in a wealthy estate. So his ex-chums stage an intervention of sorts. They tell Peter that he has a terminal case of "Burb-itis," a wasting disease caused by living life outside of the big city. In the midst of all this, Peter's snobby wife Deborah (Zandy Hartig) enters, criticizes the gang for drinking cheap scotch, and admits that she never liked her husband's opus.

The play's characterizations and plot twists revolve around stereotypes. Deborah plays the role of the shrew in Peter's mid-life crisis. As for the friends, stoner Lionel sports a Hawaiian shirt along with a hemp belt and other drug paraphernalia; George is the bitter loner who plays by his own rules; and Melinda is the street-wise New Yorker dripping compassion. Next-door neighbor Garrison (Johnnie Moore) is at least an amusing cliché -- a cross between Rex Harrison, Steve Forbes, and a Westchester brahmin. His daughter (Anna Soloway), on the other hand, seems to have been written by someone who hasn't met a teenager in the past decade.

As it turns out, the wife is sleeping with the neighbor and the husband is making moves on the babysitter -- who, incidentally, is Garrison's underage daughter. These infidelities apparently cancel each other out, so none of the characters need to go through any serious introspection. Peter's friend George tries to sexually blackmail the wife after walking in on her tryst -- but then she turns him down, the situation is more or less forgotten, and Peter and Geroge remain friends. Instead of actual resolution, the play devolves to sitcom morality, with such feel good bromides as "Maybe we need to see things as they are, not what they ought to be."

It's amazing how many elementary mistakes OBIE Award-winner Kevin Confoy has made in directing this production. Actors stand up just before delivering their lines and sometimes address punch lines and plot twists to the audience. To indicate tension between characters, certain actors are positioned on opposite sides of the stage. When Peter and Deborah are each caught having affairs, their first instinct is to act suspicious while pretending not to have been caught red-handed. (High school theaters might be expected to perform Dracula with more subtlety and realism.)

The best that can be said about this show is that, for the most part, it's well designed. Keven Confoy's and Bryan Logan's set of varnished wood conveys the affluence of the family and the aged austerity of the estate. Grant W.S. Yeagar's understated lighting may be the only element of the production that suggests nuance. Autumn Saville's Brooks Brothers-style wardrobe serves most of the characters well, though her costumes for Lionel turn that figure into a cartoon, which is pretty much par for the course here.

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