Review by Evan Meena
An ample share of NYC theatre companies devote themselves to creating new works but Playful Substance under the leadership of Bree O’Connor fosters full programs that take you from soup to nuts – idea to production. Using the medium of zoom and an intelligent subdues host (Laura Sisskind), the company gave its audience a PBS style “specials” complete with numerous home-grown new works well written and well-played.
Hope Springs Eternal by Bree O’Connor opened the video anthology. This charming realistic story of the good that thinking positively can do featured an exuberant Shaniqua Henry and a humorously lethargic Nikita Nixon. Henry, displaying all the charms we remember from the lady-lead of sitcoms, bubbles over at meeting a man who she describes as her luck charm. Chance meeting on a crosstown bus, the two engage in meaningful banter over a book she read thanks to a previous conversation with Nixon. Their analysis of the book and how it seemed to change her outlook and future-thinking was entertaining and engaging. We see a “real” friendship form thanks to very unreal concepts of serendipity and luck. It will leave you smiling.
Lauren Linday White’s House Party featuring Ms. White and Patrick Michael Valley show us another friend-dichotomy, one even more familiar. That is the frien-emy. White should be applauded for writing and Playful Substance for presenting this style of relationship piece. There are friendships out there made up of people who need each other to complain to and this was a perfect example. One might – if you don’t look close enough – think these two hate each other, but they actually need each others, thus they are a pair of dear friends., The art of judgment is a kind of relationship that – now in the social media dynasty – is all the more prevalent and this play celebrates them. White and Valley hand us perfect diction and execution in complaining about everything from the food to the guests to their bank accounts. When they are done, they compare this event to others! Top-notch muggings for the camera and elitist delivery make this a guilty pleasure.
Painful Whimsey by Niki Hatzidis, who also stars with Brandon Fox and Joyce Miller, puts us in a tattoo shop and a battle between a millennial couple being -well- millennial. A manic and uproarious Hatzidis, careening through another emotion-packed mid-something-or-other crisis decides to get a piercing and her down-to-earth husband (Fox) is totally not for it. The chemistry between the two was outstanding and – even though they were each in their own zoom world, had lovely comic timing. Joyce Miller’s “oh no, not another one” tat artist gave us both the straight lines for the couples manic exchanges as well as ample solicitations of laughter. Sure, the story is way-predicable with the couple resolving ands being in love with each other FOR their dysfunction and not in spite of it, but the performances and witty dialogue ( Hatzidis’ battle cry “I have mistakes to make!”) made this a really enjoyable ride.
For Good Measure written by and performed by Amanda Faye Lacson was truly remarkable. This commentary about how we treat the world around us used examples of goat habits and the slow digression of a glacier sneaks up on our psyche to leave us with a feeling of emptiness. Its difficult to offer cheers on a piece with such a message, more like knowing nods, but one can say it was truly well-written and so naturally acted as to seem like a free style stream of consciousness (down to recognizing the sounds of the city outside her window). Lacson’s intellectual level of theatre is so needed on more than just stage. Her location was ironic as all we see her and a bookcase – again adding the learning experience.
The presentation ended with two compelling songs composed by host Laura Sisskin. While these pieces were enjoyable, they seemed out of place. Possibly sandwiched in between the one-acts may have made them more cohesive to the evening. Here, at the end, they seemed stuck in at the last minute, and that is not the fate of well-done musical pieces.
Playful Substance seems to set the standard of drama at a commendably high level and this evening of one acts showed that. Even the PBS-ish presentation said “open your heart … and mind.” But let’s not it’s also a fundraiser and audiences – if they’d like to see quality entertainment like this – should also open their checkbooks. Visit them at http://www.playfulsubstance.com