PLAYS: FRINGE, "The Box," "The Sunshine Play," "PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play]," "Susan Gets Some Play"
Right now, Steffi Kammer's brave, autobiographical show, The Box, is a little too closed off. Her urban tale of growing up in Brooklyn's worst project, the lone white girl, smacks of authenticity, but her telling seems sheltered behind the safety of disassociative images, precisely the sort of memory-by-way-of-image she describes when talking about [Josef] Cornell boxes. At fifty minutes, the metaphors don't seem strained, but neither does Kammer's experience: her emotion peeks out, as if from behind a slightly ajar door, but her presentation is anything but jarring.
Her style presents the squalid past with rosy cheer, not resentment. To that end, the play is uplifting, but dramatically awkward; it is easier for Kammer to imitate the stereotypically rich Jewish ladies (whose idea of something not working is something that clashes) than it is, at times, for her to open up the full refrigerator of memories. She touches on a near rape with an older Russian man, the constant stress of her Swedish mother, and of a hopelessly romantic homeless man, but all the impact is boxed up with her memories.
The Sunshine Play
Remember the Act II opening from The Fantasticks, "That Plum Is Too Ripe"? Well, that's The Sunshine Play, an overt physical comedy that hides the cynicism underneath. Both halves are well executed by the players, with Cosmin Selesi (Trifan) as a delightfully tight-lipped jealous drunk; Daniel Popa (Dan), as a sarcastic, joke-cracking free-wheeler; and Isabela Neamtu (Iza) as a quick-witted, overwhelmed beauty. Peca Stefan's script captures the nuances of natural conversations: awkward rhythms, weird first kisses, and all; this, even translated from Romanian. The direction from Ana Margineanu is thrilling: for all the small gestures, there's a sense of excitement in each nuance, and even a few surprises, too. That final scene, anything but happy, follows logically and completely from everything before, and the whole Monday Theater team has done us a service by bringing this play here.
PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play]
After watching Hotel Oracle, the last confusing collaboration between writer Bixby Elliot and director Stephen Brackett, I was hoping that Mr. Elliot would skip the intellectualism and the magical realism and simply get to the point. With PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play], he's gone one better: he's pinpointed the message. That message--about homosexuality's struggle for rights and need for acceptance--is at times a little overbearing. However, the playful magical realism (which collides a couple from the '50s, the '80s, and a mysterious stranger from the future) keeps the action at least theatrically plausible. Furthermore, the central characters are likeable and understandable, even at their worst, and their struggles are identifiable and sincere. Jonathan (James Ryan Caldwell), ashamed of being gay, tries to avoid committing to his open partner, Brad (Yuval Boim), even after Brad is bashed for it. In the '50s, things are even worse for Laurence (Chad Heoppner), who expresses his shame with his self-loathing homophobia and a shy attempt at marriage with a spinster librarian, Madeline (Marguerite Stimpson). The contrast--seamlessly (and at times emphatically) navigated by Brackett--speaks wonders for the cultural differences and struggles. If the fiery Everett Quinton's performance as Harry, the Fierstein-like proselytizer, weren't so emotional, it would seem superfluous; as is, it's just another layer to a solid tome.
Susan Gets Some Play
Being single in the city sucks, and dating is hard. But if it could always be as funny as in Adam Szymkowicz's Susan Gets Some Play, then we'd at least have something to look forward to. This show builds on everything Szymkowicz developed in last year's Nerve (it even pairs the two leads again), but escapes the easy situational comedy of a blind date by building the story around a real (albeit metadramatic) heart: Susan Louise O'Connor's, to be specific. You see, the plot of the play revolves around a director (Kevin R. Free) who creates a play solely to find Susan a boyfriend. We, the audience, get to watch (and perhaps take part in) auditions, then to delight in the growing farce. But Susan Gets Some Play is grounded in her likable innocence, and sparkling honesty: when she talks about how nice it would be simply to be held (even if she has to play a character for no pay, no lines, and a terrible commute), it seems blissfully sincere. Mortiz von Stuelpnagel's direction amplifies the ridiculous, but remains elastic enough to snap back into seriousness. Comedy is built on such distortions of mood; this production has near perfected the necessity of equal parts silly and sincere.