Don't let anyone tell you differently - summer is not quite over yet. It's being kept alive in a bright, fresh way through a new production of Richard Greenberg's Eastern Standard at the T. Schreiber Studio. As one season may just as easily make its final gasps late into the next, Eastern Standard is devoted to exploring the contradictions of life in warm, thoughtful ways during the chill of fall.
Those contradictions take on many forms: a crowded Manhattan restaurant and the quieter vistas of the Hamptons; financial fulfillment and emotional contentment; living on borrowed time and living with all the time in the world; even liberalism's good intentions and the reality of the difficulty in implementing solutions to life's problems. The real strength of Eastern Standard is that Greenberg was able to fold these issues so thoroughly into what is, at heart, a highly humorous examination of the vagaries of life and love of all sorts.
But while lighting designer Joe Saint and scenic designer Tal Goldin had a hand in establishing the atmosphere, it's director Glenn Krutoff who has provided the majority of sun for this production, keeping the pacing swift, the actors buoyant, and his goal clear from beginning to end. His staging of the tightly focused (and relatively brief) first act, in which we're introduced to the characters who will eventually impact each other's lives in ways they can't imagine, is uptight, formal, and city-worn, much like the characters themselves. His second act is so carefree, who can blame these people for shedding their urban skin to reveal the feeling, caring people beneath?
One of Greenberg's most important arguments is that trust is something that cannot be bestowed too freely, as it is easily betrayed, so preconceptions of the central characters are difficult. In brief, they are Stephen (Jack Reiling), an accomplished but unhappy architect of New York's urban blight; Drew (Shane Jacobsen), an artist desperately seeking real human connection; Phoebe (Michelle Bagwell), a power player who has a hard time letting go of the past; Peter (Jason Salmon), her brother, suffering from AIDS and hiding behind his looks and clothes; and Ellen (Debbie Jaffe), a waitress/actress/would-be activist.
The sixth character, May (Andrea Marshall-Money), is perhaps the most important. A homeless woman whose behavior at Ellen's restaurant draws the other four together, she emerges as a symbol of all that's right and wrong with the other characters. May's the only one unwilling or incapable of erecting a fašade, and uses this to her advantage in both the city and the country, when Ellen invites her to Stephen's estate in the Hamptons. As the others lie, deceive, cover up, and reconfigure their relationships, May remains to allow us to reflect on how well-meaning actions can so easily go awry.
The production's acting is a bit uneven, with the women (particularly Marshall-Money) generally creating more rounded and thoughtful characters than the men, though Jacobsen's barely suppressed flamboyance nets him the balance of the play's laughs and anguished feeling later. And though they all play the characters a bit younger than Greenberg's script suggests, they do share a textured rapport that makes their developing relationships inherently credible.
And if this production of Eastern Standard has a tendency to look at the play's late-1980s setting with too knowing and even winking an eye, it does a fine job at pointing out parallels between then and now. Our future, like these characters', is uncertain, and there remains plenty of reason to make everyday celebrations of life, love, and friendship mean as much as they can while we wait for the sun to go down in what will, hopefully, be our own ideal lives.
T. Schreiber Studio