Ever been to the house of a “friend of a friend” and found yourself sitting mute on the couch, suddenly in the middle of an extremely personal, highly intense spat between roommates? If you choose to see …A Matter of Choice, currently performing at Chashama Theatre, you’ll not only know the feeling, but you’ll know it uncomfortably so.
Upon your entrance into Chashama Theatre, you are tossed into the living room of Chastity, Webb, and Diggs, three twenty-somethings making do and having a ball on 116th Street. Life is seemingly perfect (and what wouldn’t be for three large bedrooms at $900 each a month?), until that unlucky message from the MTA arrives informing them they must vacate before the construction of the 2nd Avenue subway commences. Suddenly facing the possibility of relocating to Staten Island, the three roommates explore different options and confront each other’s true personalities while trying desperately to plan out the rest of their lives.
Chad Beckin’s new play focusing on the mundane annoyances and life-altering alternatives of this jaded, embittered counterpart to “Friends” is at once simplistically routine and dramatically irregular. Faced with eviction or relocation, each of the roommates is forced to re-examine their pre-existing relationship with each other as well as the imminent direction of their own life. Conflict arises as deep-seated provocations become clear. Several satellite characters float in and out of the action and provide some of the best performances of the evening.
As much as director John Gould Rubin successfully prods his cast into delivering frighteningly realistic performances, it is these performances that sometimes overpower the show. Combined with the acoustics of the space, the escalating arguments between cast members can reach an ear-splitting pitch that turns the lines into little more than echoing screams. Couple that with the immediate proximity to heavy stage smoking (a fan is used to direct it away from the audience, but the smell still lingers) and cramped seating space, Choice teeters on the edge of just plain uncomfortable.
To see the collection of oddly assorted people who end up in this doomed apartment is intriguing, though. Jeremy Strong steals the show with his mellowed-out, aimless, Giovanni Ribisi-esque portrayal of Diggs, while Sarah Hayon’s explosive convictions provide a nice balance. Also extremely enjoyable is Chris Chalk as Boo, Digg’s recently paroled drug buddy who reveals a more sensitive side as the play progresses.
Slightly disappointing are those trapped within the main relationship conflict, Webb and Michael. Nyambi Nyambi as Webb gives a fairly bland performance, and John Summerour isn’t as responsible for Michael’s confusing depiction as the innate structure of his character is. Also head-scratching is Molly Pearson as Madison, who really seems to have no lasting purpose other than exposing Digg’s drug stash.
What is especially memorable about Choice is its set design and theatre configuration. Lex Liang’s idea works brilliantly by providing the audience with unusual angles and non-traditional staging, and some of the show’s best moments are played out behind our backs. Thanks to a large mirror positioned to face the audience, the “hallway” scenes greatly increase the voyeuristic atmosphere and contribute to its uniqueness.
Due to its gritty content and overtly realistic violence, some might find Choice to be a little too real for their tastes. Others, especially the urban twenties set, might see shocking parallels to their own lives. As for me, I’m still gracefully trying to make my exit from this discomfited party without angering its arguing hosts . . .
Partial Comfort Productions