Growing Playwrights in Brooklyn. The 2008 Crop.

Review by Robert Liebowitz

When the curtain came down on the fifth and final one-act of Brooklyn One Theater’s “A Playwright Grows In Brooklyn”, two overused but still-endearing cliches came to mind: Slow and Steady Wins The Race, and Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day.

Tom Kane and Anthony Marino, first and foremost, are to be commended for continuing to bring vibrant, exciting, meaningful, entertaining theater to the good citizens of Brooklyn, USA. In this fast-moving, add-water-and-mix, I-want-everything-yesterday society we presently inhabit, it is hard enough to get people to leave the friendly confines of their living room for some live entertainment: after all, even with a gluttonous amount of electronic diversions,  there (still) is nothing like a live performance. If I wore a hat, I’d absolutely and gratefully tip it in their direction.

Here’s where the first cliche comes in handy: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if the quality of the plays selected are any indication of the future of this particular festival, then it will take a lot longer than one day to build this little town.

The first two plays,”Extreme Duress”, and “Beautiful”, were terrible messes. Terrible productions of terrible plays.

John Capo, the author of “Extreme Duress”, has seen Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” way too many times (he even mentions him in the play). A trio, two brothers and a femme fatale, take turns scheming each other, with one layer of unbelievability added to another. By play’s end, you wish for all the characters to be dead and gone. To compound matters, Mr Capo decided not only to direct his own work, but to act in it as well. Note to Mr. Capo: This triple play of yours, in the Spiral Notebook of Theatre Production, is a Bad Bad Idea. Please refrain in the future.

Catherine Tandy and Clay Helms completed the cast and, sadly, contributed nothing. A sense of urgency, of pace, style, of moment-to-moment reality, of planned spontaneity, of empathy, of change, even of simply entertainment, ideas that are a staple to an actor’s essence, were nowhere to be found. The dialogue was straight out of junior year in high school, and the acting was about the same.

However, compared to “Beautiful”, “Extreme Duress” was Brando in “Streetcar”.

“Beautiful”, pardon the obvious play on words, was anything but. In fact, it would take a long journey down memory lane to recall a play that was so poorly written. It was a 55-minute session at the dentist. The play concerned something about Reality TV, or our national obsession with external beauty, or both. Ordinarily, these are important themes, and if Dana Fuchs, the playwright, had set out to write a satire, or a cautionary tale about the excesses of these vices, then all would be well and good. Unfortunately, Ms. Fuchs had no idea what she wanted to say, and had no idea in how to say it. The characters are cartoons, the dialogue is unnatural, tepid, and as dull as dishwater, and the performances were simply lousy from top to bottom.

Intermission, and not a moment too soon. To Leave or Not To Leave, that is the question. No, I will stay. Hope: It’s what keeps us alive. Sure enough, allow the other cliche to make its entrance: Slow and steady wins the race. That is true for horse racing, marriages, elections, and evenings in the theater. The second act, consisting of three shorter works, gave the evening the U-Turn it so desperately needed, and ultimately made the evening moderately successful.

The first of these plays, “The Midnight Radio Show” by the late Vince Mazza, was pretty standard fare, with a decent twist ending:Jonathan Beaumont, an obnoxious talk-radio host, ably played by Dustin Cross, begins receiving strange, then threatening phone calls from his various listeners. Director J Michaels keeps things moving along briskly, a breath of fresh air from the abyss of the first act. Michael Ruocco, who starred in “The Music Man” recently on the NCT stage, again shines as Tom,
Mr. Beaumont’s long-suffering producer; Christopher Sirota completes the cast in an effective manner as Mr. Sunshine, one of the off-the-wall callers. Slowly but surely, the U-Turn had begun.

It picked up speed with “Say What You Mean/Mean What You Say”, a nice little skit/play by Aaron Jaros. A man and woman, in their early twenties, meet in their basement laundromat, and engage in the mating dance in a quirky, sweet, compelling way. The play appeared well cast, with Nicola DePierro and Stephen Ryan playing the would-be lovers, but both had an alarming propensity for turning inexplicably out to the audience, suddenly breaking the fourth wall and destroying the momentum and the illusion of the believability of the situation. Still, the play was well directed by Anthony Marino, and had more than a few clever lines of dialogue. Best of all, the production and the play had the sense of moving forward into unexplored terrain, which is all anyone could hope for, and which after all is the point.

The evening’s final play, “True Blue”, by Mary Steelsmith, was a strange way to end the evening, and left an even stranger taste in the mouth. Ms. Steelsmith has an obvious knack for playwriting, an excellent ear for dialogue, a clear understanding of exposition, a strong sense of pace, and an affinity for dramatic tension. The direction by Michael Coluccio was strong, and the acting, by Stephen Fontana and Anton Koval, was first rate, and the evening’s best. What was missing was the point. It was easy to miss; the substance of the play,–two competing soldiers in a mysterious room competing for something– was too eccentric to be readily understood. The soldiers were competing against each other in some fashion, but I, for one, was not sure what was the nature of the competition, and why. Were they both American soldiers, just on different teams? Or was one Russian, one not? (One dark-haired actor, one blonde) Or were they two sides of the same person, a la ” The Fight Club”? Wasn’t sure. Still, a success, completing a modest “three-peat”.

There didn’t appear to be any semblance of a technical design (lighting, costume, make-up, etc.) The standard ‘set’, used by all the plays, consisted of some sort of fence with little masking to speak of. Actors made exits, but you’re never really sure if they are off-stage at any time. Black curtains would have prevented portraits of Robert E Lee and Ulysses S Grant from staring at the audience while hanging on the center stage wall. Easy, obvious things were not addressed that are essential to completing the theatrical experience. Things to put on the top of the to-do list for the fourth annual festival.

Robert Liebowitz is a published and produced playwright. His productions have received contract runs off-Broadway and premieres at The Fringe Festival. He is the author of the anthology, “Awake & Aggravated.” He is artistic director of None of the Above theater, a 20-year-old stage company based in
– and on – New York City.

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