Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Welcome to Dreamcatcher's New Neighborhood
Dreamcatcher Artistic Director Laura Ekstrand has provided the book and lyrics and, keeping it in the family, her husband Joseph Zawila has composed the music. The other members of this actors' theatre collective, who along with Ekstrand comprise the cast, have made contributions to The Neighborhood's book.
Each of the eight cast members plays him or herself as well as two or more additional neighborhood denizens. I would hazard a guess that there is a close approximation of each actor's true persona in his or hers stage one. The cast consists of members of Dreamcatcher's improvisational comedy troupe, Multiple Personality Disorder. Their improvisational comedy skills, lively personalities, and joy in performing this material make their performances truly delightful.
The opening scene, which is a mixture of dialogue and song, finds the cast singly and together defining the term "neighborhood," describing their feelings about neighbors and relating memories of their old neighborhoods. The full length two-act musical is made up of dozens of short scenes which depict contacts between neighbors illustrating each one's attitude toward his neighbors, and the joys and difficulties of dealing with neighbors. Some scenes are self-contained mini-plays; other more substantial stories play out over many scenes spread throughout the entire evening. There are also brief sketches which stand alone, as well as brief sketches which tell a slight continuing story. There are seven songs and a reprise.
The opening song ("The Old Neighborhood") lovingly details each cast members childhood memories and concludes simply "I don't know if my old neighborhood/ Was ever like my memory/ But when I look back on my neighborhood/ This is what I see."
Initially, the material seems thin. Setting up the stage physically for some of the brief sketches can take longer than the sketches themselves. However, as The Neighborhood progresses, an alchemy takes place and the sketches and scenes become deeper and more substantial.
I do not want to spoil any of the fun. So suffice it to suggest that you keep an eye on the very funny, mature Noreen Farley who just wants to be left alone by all the younger couples surrounding her. Particularly intrusive is her well intended neighbor Scott McGowan. All train riders will amusedly squirm as Jason Szamreta and Dave Maulbeck (Pete) work out the awkward situation of just how much time and communication neighbors on a commuter train have to give to one another. Harriett Trangucci assumes distinctive four roles.
Laura Ekstrand is concerned with the pressure to be on multiple school committees as she delightfully patter sings the names of the 62 PTA committees which must be staffed by parents ("You don't need to do the extra things/ Like eat, sleep, work for pay/ Just got to do what's necessary/ And join the PTA"). Harry Patrick Christian's delightfully outgoing stage presence finds the fun in being "Single in the Suburbs." Jessica O'Hara-Baker leads off the first act finale which amusingly and accurately describes the curiosity and critical eye with which each neighbor tends to observe and judge the others.
My favorite number is "Christmas Time" which finds suburbanites hypocritically pretending that Christmas spirit is more important to them than outdoing their neighbors in decorating their house.
Lauren Moran Mills has directed with a light comic touch and nicely captured the moments of warmth including the unexpected climax.
The Neighborhood continues performances (Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm / Sunday 2pm) through October 14, 2012, at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, New Jersey 07901; Box Office: 908-514-9654; 800-838-3006 (Brown Paper Tickets)/ on-line: www.dreamcatcherrep.org
The Neighborhood Book and lyrics by Laura Ekstrand; Music by Joseph Zawila; directed by Lauren Moran Mills