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FringeNYC 2011 Review Roundup #7

Reports on The Apartment: A Play with Four Sides, Recovery, and Elysian Fields. logo
[Editor's Note: This is the seventh in a series of roundups on the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival.]
Christina Broccolini and Chris Davis in The Apartment
(© Neilson Barnard)
The Apartment: A Play with Four Sides, at Teatro La Tea, begins promisingly with a short but sweet story of a young couple in a New York City apartment on the night of the 2003 blackout. Unfortunately, as the piece -- co-written by Sorrel Barnard, Melissa Moran, Lindsay Joy Murphy, and David Scott -- leaps forward in time with each successive scene, it loses both its charm and its dramatic credibility.

In the first segment, Sarah (Christina Broccolini) is thinking about leaving the city, still shaken by a devastating personal loss in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The blackout seems to confirm her fears, prompting her to declare, "I don't have the skills for the apocalypse!" Tim (Chris Davis), whom she has recently started dating, wants her to look on the bright side of everything. Their exchange is filled with humor and passion and the two performers generate a believable chemistry.

The next scene is set in 2005, as Peter (Christopher Johnstone) and Kristina (Mara Lalli) begin their sublet of that same apartment -- as well as their first attempt at living together. Again, the performers work well with one another as their characters try to reconcile their differing approaches to creating a home -- while also worried about a potential bedbug infestation.

Things take a turn for the worse in the next scene, set in 2010, as Matt (Victor J. Wisehart) and Nahid (Shannon Amiry) apply to sublet the apartment. It's clear early on that the couple is lying about several things, which are eventually revealed in a clunky, expository fashion. Moreover, Wiesehart and Amiry play their roles so broadly that it's difficult to connect with their characters.

The final scene is set a year later, as professional cleaners Jerry (Vayu O'Donnell) and Rita (Sarah Nina Hayon) arrive to cleanse the apartment following a violent episode that seems rather melodramatically concocted. The piece appears to want to be a romantic comedy, but its dark set-up combined with the very uneven power dynamics of the situation gives it a creepy vibe and ends the performance on a sour note.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Brian J. Carter in Recovery
(© Mark Jason Williams)
Mark Jason Williams -- who battled leukemia during his childhood -- faces the affliction head-on once again by writing Recovery, a "comic-drama" at the Kraine. He wants audiences to understand the realities involved, including sometimes succumbing to the cancer of the blood and, just as importantly, sometimes overcoming it. Unfortunately, the way in which he carries out his plan is not very successful.

The playwright first introduces Michael Domani (Brian J. Carter), a 35-year-old patient in hospital for some tedium-plagued time waiting for his red cells to multiply so they don't so troublingly outnumber the whites. Soon enough, Williams brings on patient Kathleen (the impressive Elena Zazanis), and while trying to strike up an acquaintance with her, Michael refuses to take her adamant no for an answer and instead presses himself on her through a series of short scenes, the potential romantic outcome of which the audience guesses early.

It looks as if Williams thinks this relationship reflects what patients undergoing long-term treatment face, and to some extent, it undoubtedly does. But it also seems intended to function as a standard boy-meets-girl plot. However, if the relentless Michael grows on the audience, it's as a fungus. When he insists he doesn't know why his wife left him (Kathleen's husband is dead five years), spectators could give him some idea.

Between the tug-of-love segments, Williams has several other leukemia sufferers (played by Kathy Searle and Dan Patrick Brady) tell their stories, most of them not ending happily. He also throws in glimpses of the overlapping medical and personal affairs of a Dr. Bestar (Jon Krupp) and nurse Lucille (Erin Cherry), but the reason for their inclusion is unclear.

-- David Finkle

Miles Cooper, Aaron Hartzler, and Scott Hinson
in Elysian Fields
(© Nathan Hatch)
A trio of pivotal characters, much-discussed, but never seen in Tennessee Williams classics, find their way to the stage for the first time in Chris Phillips' Elysian Fields, at the Kraine Theatre.

In this earnest, but unrewarding, play Phillips fills in the backstories for Allan (the genteelly awkward Miles Cooper), the too-young husband that Blanche DuBois mourns in A Streetcar Named Desire; Sebastian (hotly overplayed by Scott Hinson), the sensitive maverick whose death inspires the battle at the center of Suddenly Last Summer; and Skipper (a mercurially sexy Aaron Hartzler), the man who haunts the marriage at the center of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There's little question that Phillips places the characters into highly charged situations: Allan on the evening he proposes, Sebastian during the final moments before his death, and Skipper during one drunken night that he shares with Brick (Daniel Marks, who plays all of the secondary male characters), the man he loves, and Maggie (Amanda Kruger, who plays all of the female characters), the woman who is Skipper's rival. But while there's inherent drama in the scenarios, they sag under the weight of exposition as Phillips works to link the action with his source material.

An exception is the play's third sequence, where the production springs to life momentarily as Maggie and Skipper prowl around one another, attempting to determine what sort of threat the other poses to his or her relationship with Brick. Unfortunately, though, the piece quickly veers into banality as Skipper attempts to convince Brick that they could share a life together.

The script's weaknesses are only enhanced by Phillips' -- and his co-director John Michael Beck's -- overly languid staging, which affords audiences with ample opportunity to contemplate the aspects of Williams' writing that are sorely missing here: principally the writer's fluid lyricism and his ability to infuse even the most pungently uncomfortable drama with cutting comedy.

-- Andy Propst


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