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Keep Your Baggage With You (at all times)

Jonathan Blitstein's engaging yet problematic new play tracks the rift in the relationship between two old friends. logo
Dan Abeles and Nate Miller in
Keep Your Baggage With You (at all times)
(© Samantha Soule)
Friends are not forever -- at least, that's the case for the characters in Jonathan Blitstein's Keep Your Baggage With You (at all times), an engaging yet problematic new play at Theatre for the New City, being presented as part of the Dream Up Festival.

The play tracks the rifts in the friendship between Greg (Nate Miller) and Dave (Daniel Abeles), who grew up together but find their adult relationship increasingly strained. In the first scene, set at a diner in December 2006, the two are out with Dave's girlfriend Julie (Laura Ramadei). Their dialogue is warm and amicable, and while Greg does make a couple of sexist remarks that foreshadow things to come, at this juncture they still fall within the spirit of friendly banter, and are received as such.

Successive scenes leap forward in time, sometimes by months, and occasionally by years. Greg gets a girlfriend, Ashley (Molly Ward), and then Dave and Greg successively lose their girlfriends. These experiences change both men, but not at the same time, and ultimately in diametrically opposed directions.

An encounter between Greg and Ashley, post-break-up, is one of the most compelling scenes in the play, as well as the most vexing. Previously, Greg had tried to do all the right things, was sensitive to her emotional needs, and almost lost his job because he traveled out to Virginia to take care of her sick brother. Ashley, who had left Greg to embark upon a lesbian relationship that also failed, tells him flat-out that he's too feminine, and that "if you want to attract straight women, you have to act like a man."

The scene, while admittedly funny, seems to reinforce fears of the castrating lesbian, and provides justification for Greg's blatantly misogynistic turn in the next scene, as he follows her advice with rather unpleasant results. "What happened to you?" asks Dave, whose own development following his break-up with Julie involved a promiscuous phase before getting further in touch with his own feelings.

Miller starts out with a certain amount of charm which he slowly loses as the play progresses, and Greg becomes more and more unlikable. Abeles is good at emoting with his eyes, particularly when Greg seems to dominate their actual verbal exchanges. Ramadei isn't really given enough to make a substantial impression, while Ward does wonders with the little she does have to make for a captivating and surprisingly complex characterization.

Director Daniel Talbott keeps the momentum of the piece running at a good pace, and with set designer Eugenia Furneaux-Arends, exposes the backstage of the theater, so that costume racks and dressing tables are visible at all times, as are the actors and stagehands who are not in a particular scene in the play. But this choice, while certainly noticeable, doesn't seem to add anything of value to the production.

Similarly, the playwright's decision to end with a flashback scene between the two women helps to round out their characters, but abruptly shifts the focus from what had up until that point been Greg's journey, and makes Blitstein's intentions for both this scene and the entire play frustratingly unclear.

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