Off Broadway Reviews
The middle evening of EATFest 2004 contains some of the best moments in the festival, but also produces some of the most confusing and irritating occasions mixed right into the middle of them. Suspicious Behavior and Morons each offer basic outline sketches of situations both over-the-top and gratingly simple. Le Peu however, redeems the evening with impeccable comic timing, tight direction, and dedicated acting.
Kevin Brofsky's Suspicious Behavior is one of those post 9/11 playlets that attempts to disguise its affiliation within unassuming characters, but at its heart Behavior could not be more blatant about its lesson-teaching. The after-school special aura it possesses is both cringe-worthy and patronizing, and its conclusion brings nothing new to what we should have learned from the horrible tragedy.
When neighborhood busybody Lena Gladstone (Jane Altman) receives a mysterious package from an even more mysterious "Arabian man," she lugs it over to Irene O'Bannion's (Rebecca Hoodwin) doorstep, assuming it must be meant for her Middle-Eastern tenant. The two women debate about opening it, Mrs. O'Bannion adamant it's probably nothing of interest, Mrs. Gladstone convinced it's either a bomb or the makings of one. As the women deliberate and finally give in (Mrs. Gladstone: "I'd rather ruin it before it ruins us!"), the tenant Omar Abdelbaagi (Peter Macklin) arrives home and immediately takes offense to their actions and words. What then ensues is a pointed and blunt discussion about strangers, the oppression of races (the three happen to coincidentally comprise Jewish, Irish, and Middle Eastern descent). The revelations the three come to about judgments and prejudice are about as simple as those a five-year-old learns from picture books, and the "let's all be friends" ending is worthy of both a groan and an uncomfortable shift in your seat.
What makes this piece not a total loss is the Ms. Altman and Ms. Hoodwin, two obviously seasoned actresses who managed to imbue paper-thin characters with warmth and honesty. Their situation might be contrived and slightly embarrassing, but these two women at least present the audience with a relationship that's fun to watch, even if it's not fun to hear.
Morons by William Baer, also treads sensitive ground, but for most of the play it looks like he has a respectable handle on the subject matter. Idiot savant twins (intricately played by Patrick Arnheim and Desmond Dutcher) are confined to a sanitarium and presided over by a doctor with a serious gambling and lying issues. After taking away their favorite nurse, the doctor (Tom Penney) strikes them a deal: pick the winning horses for the Belmont Stakes and he'll return her to them. They rattle off a series of odds and names, and the doctor hurries out to bet. Only then do the twins (referred to as morons because of their 55 point IQ), laugh about giving the doctor sure losers. This would be a charming little piece if that were the stable ending, but then the twins call for another doctor to come to their room. However, we don't get to find out what that is about, since the lights extinguish and that's the end. It's a frustrating setup, and I was literally confused if that was the ending or if there would be more. Nope, that was it. Morons builds up such promise, and then delivers absolutely nothing through its ending. I was left wondering what the point of it was, since what its plot delivered was certainly not original or creative enough to warrant writing a play about it.
By this point, I was extremely thankful that Le Peu not only had a point, but a zany and farcical plot at that. Gregg Pasternack spins us the short story of Caren and Bob, a young married couple on their way to a party when Caren notices Bob's shirt. She's never seen it before and when Bob asks why she's so intent of knowing where he bought it, she replies "We're women. It's our job to remember the details so you don't have to." Bob finally confesses that the dry cleaners mixed up the orders, and he was delivered this rather nice shirt instead of the inhabitant of Penthouse 3 - or "the smelly Frenchman," as they have dubbed him. When the elevator doors open to reveal so-called "smelly Frenchman" on his way down to the lobby, the three then become entangled in a hilarious battle of lies and manipulation, all played out with crackling energy and recognizable man/woman relations. Not only is Pasternack's script original, zippy, and intelligent, but his three actors embrace it with quickness and excitement. Lavette Gleis manages to turn Caren into an enchanting and stubborn young woman, and she is perfectly offset by the over excitable Jason Nettle as Bob, whose macho tendencies prove to be his downfall. Kila Packett thankfully masters a French accent with ease, and he refrains from turning Giscard into either a stereotype or a cartoon character. Overall, Le Peu is what I would consider the best play of EATFest, and a distinct example of when a new play captures the basics of what can turn it into a great play.
The admirable thing about EATFest is that you get to see a wide range of styles and subjects. As with most events of that nature, you take the bad with the good, and while all the pieces I have seen at least had their saving graces, some plays possess more of the good than others.
Emerging Artists Theatre Company