“Back” at Teatro SEA reviewed by ANTHONY J. PICCIONE
When its summer in New York City, it typically means only one thing in the world of independent theatre: festival season!
With more and more indie theatre festivals either restructuring or disappearing altogether, the landscape of opportunities for new playwrights on the festival circuit is ever changing. Also among these changes has been the debut of NYC’s youngest major festival: Ken Davenport’s RAVE Theatre Festival. This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to catch one of the many entrees into this first RAVE Theatre Festival.
The brainchild of writer/actor Matt Webster, Back is a drama based around many familiar themes. Romance. Regret. Friendship. Separation. Time-travel. It all comes together over the course of the play, building up toward an emotionally intense climax, which leaves you with a mildly unique overall story-line that blends traditional romance with elements of science-fiction.
Some of the plot feels somewhat cliché, and the mid-point where characters Derek and Leah – portrayed by Webster and Terra Mackintosh, respectively – get intimate and half-naked feels slow, if not unnecessary. However, the futuristic elements involving the opportunity to go back in time, along with the twist toward the play’s end, are both quite good. Also, the dialogue is also mostly well-written, and there are plenty of moments of corny but charming humor that display Mr. Webster’s talent for comedic writing. Had the overall concept of the play taken a more comedic turn, perhaps the plot itself would have been more enjoyable.
In terms of the two-person cast, Mr. Webster captures the right amount of anxiety and frustration that the character of Derek clearly feels, although those seem to be the only authentic feelings that shine through, as he’s speaking his dialogue. Normally, you might think a playwright acting in his own play would imply that he knows better than anyone who to speak his own lines, but after seeing this, it’s unclear whether he’s the strongest actor to bring the character to life.
Ms. Mackintosh was considerably better, and was clearly emotionally invested in the role of Leah, helping to elevate the overall performance.
The highlight of this production, however, is the skillful direction of David Perlow. The show is minimalist, in terms of staging and lighting, yet the choices that are made are consistently excellent, from the choreography to the transitions to the simple neon lights which flash between each scene. I also particularly enjoyed the moment where cellphone lights, and nothing else, are used to illuminate the faces of the actors.
While it’s not necessarily the most original idea for a play I’ve seen, the play’s aesthetic choices and production value are reflective of minimalism in theatre at its finest. Combined with moments of compelling dialogue and enough plot elements to make it somewhat distinctive from other romantic dramas, this play is just good enough to recommend, for anyone seeking to watch a decent romantic drama during this year’s festival season.
“Back” stars Matt Webster and Terra Mackintosh.
“Back” is written by Matt Webster and directed by David Perlow, featuring sound design by Andrew Fox, scenic design by Tim McMath, lighting design by Greg Solomon, assistant director Patrick Gallagher, stage manager Abi Rowe, general manager Tony Lance, assistant producer Parker Krug, and publicity courtesy of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment.
“Back” – presented as part of the RAVE Theatre Festival – runs at Teatro SEA at the Clemente Center, located at 107 Suffolk Street, New York, NY, from August 10th-23rd. For more information, please visit www.backtheplay.com.