Other People

Pete Starrett and Neal Huffin Other People(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Pete Starrett and Neal Huff
in Other People
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

A couple of 20-something East Village artists are getting ready to
celebrate Christmas at the beginning of Christopher Shinn’s new
play Other People, directed by Tim Farrell at
Playwrights Horizons’ New Theater Wing. But within the play, Shinn’s
characters are quick to draw the distinction between themselves and the
characters of that other show about East Village artists. “I mean
when do any of those characters read?” asks Shinn’s character Petra
(Kate Blumberg) as she deconstructs the unnamed Pulitzer Prize-winning

Other People, which premiered in March at the Royal Court in
London, dramatizes the life, issues, and relationships of roommates
Stephen (Neal Huff), an actor/playwright whose day job is writing movie
blurbs for an online magazine, and Petra, a poet who has chosen to strip
rather than temp for her paycheck.

The play opens with the arrival of Stephen’s ex-boyfriend Mark (Pete
Starrett), who had a breakdown while making a movie in Hollywood and has
just gotten out of rehab. The trio meet up at a painfully hip
restaurant, where a techno version of “O Holy Night” plays in the
background. Mark, who has found Jesus while getting over crack, wants to
say grace before they eat; Stephen thinks that’s a first for a place
that resembles Dante’s fifth ring.

Tensions rise as the newly Bible-reading Mark takes up residence on
Stephen and Petra’s couch, and begins a sketchy relationship with Tan
(Austin Lysy), a teenager whom he meets on the street. Meanwhile, an
investment banker (Victor Slezak) at the club where Petra dances takes a
particular interest in their conversations about poetry, pornography,
and pop-culture. He suggests coffee, dinner, and dates–and generous
compensation for her time–saying, “I want you to show me your life.”
Petra accepts.

Showing this life seems to be the challenge that the playwright has
himself taken on. And with the play’s intimate Snapple-drinking,
blurb-griping, New Year’s Eve-hyping details, he succeeds at recreating
conversations which no doubt have taken place–and still are–among East
4th Street residents.

Victor Slezak andKate Blumberg in Other People(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Victor Slezak and
Kate Blumberg in Other People
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Shinn’s microcosmic particularity and scenic designer Kyle Chepulis’
Ikea specificity, however, are counteracted by the casting of actors
who belong more in the age group above the characters they play. While
audiences do grant willing suspension of age disbelief when it comes to
Friends, it’s a disappointment that they should have to for a
play that aims to show a very specific world– one in which 33 is not
the same as 26.

In the program’s introductory note, Playwrights’ artistic director Tim
Sanford describes Other People as “drolly pensive”. In general
the description fits, but the production puts an emphasis on the
pensive. The fact that that the pace of Petra’s ongoing
artistic/aesthetic debate with her investment banker patron carry over
to Petra and Stephen’s God-I-can’t-believe-I’m-eating-a-burger lunch is
kind of a drag.

The last thing that I want the characters to do is break out into a song
that glosses over the issue of paying that East Village rent, but I do
miss the energy and urgency that is an essential component (in my
experience) of that life. The city itself, referenced occasionally in Act
I with transitional sounds of subway, hip-hop, etc., maintains a discreet
place in the production. In Act II, when the script cuts between
simultaneous New Year’s Eve scenes, energy is lost in overly long
blackouts, trans-stage entrances, and multiple musical cues.

The subscriber-based of-a-certain-age audience surrounding me this past
Sunday afternoon, however, was very receptive the play. And since Shinn
dedicates his script to his mother and father, his ability to explain
(maybe justify?) his life to an audience of his elders is surely a goal

And the fact that I can see characters, conversations, and experiences
from my own life recreated on stage with sensitivity, intelligence, and
humor makes Other People a play of importance to me as someone
interested in contemporary American theater and in the lives of the
other people that I find myself among.

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Other People

Closed: November 5, 2000