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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Pleasure of Recognition:
Tales of an Urban Burb

Also see Bob's review of Little Beasts

Tales of an Urban burb
Stewart Schneck, Elizabeth DeSantis, Nora Hummel, Bev Sheehan, Steve Kuhel
There is nothing new or groundbreaking in the six largely comic vignettes that comprise Tales of an Urban Burb, which explores the cultural dissonance encountered when New Yorkers and northern New Jersey suburbanites cross onto one another's turf. However, the characters and situations are so well grounded in reality that most audiences are certain to be quite amused (and, at times, moved) by the shock and pleasure of recognition.

What raises Rose Caruso's play above being a series of sketches is the manner in which she has constructed it. The first three scenes ("From The Suburban Side") are set in northern New Jersey. The remaining three scenes ("From the Urban Side") are set in the Big Apple. For the most part, the characters in each of the first three scenes, appear in the latter three (in altered order). This allows for space between the appearances of the characters which gives us a sense of a passage of time during which they have gone on with their lives while we were away.

In the first and fifth scenes, two couples (Phil and Val, and Harry and Janice) exchange home visits. Both are broad and funny. The first successfully skewers the lack of privacy of suburban parents, but the fifth, which deals with fear of urban crime, specifically auto theft, is limited by the substantial decrease in such crimes in the City. However, there are inconsistencies in the drawing of the characters which weaken the author's thread.

It is in the other scenes that the construction pays off. In scene two, Hope, who is attending college in the City and living in the East Village, is visiting an aunt in her suburban home. Hope wants to remain in the City after her graduation, whereas her aunt urges her to return to the suburbs. The fourth scene is set on Mother's Day in a snooty French restaurant where the now, I presume, post-graduation Hope is hosting her low tone parents and another aunt. This scene, Urban Burb's funniest, nicely depicts the gaps which big city living and higher education sometimes open up between parent and child.

The third and sixth scenes, in which old but really no longer close friends, single in the city Gwen, and married and child rearing in the suburbs Harriet exchange visits, illustrate the old adage that "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." The earlier scene is quite funny, and the closing scene in which we observe the sadness of Gwen, aging and living alone in the city, brings the evening to a satisfying and poignant close.

Bev Sheehan (Gwen, Hope's mother) delivers an especially polished performance, richly comic in the roles of two very different women until the final scene in which she wordlessly employs her eyes and body language to richly limn Gwen's sadness. Elizabeth DeSantis is appealing as Hope, and the balance of the cast performs with fine, broad comic flair in multiple roles under the sure directorial hand of Christian Ely. The minimal scenery designed by Bill Joachim is adequate and functional, and the evocative and witty costumes of Maggie Baker-Atkins make a substantial contribution.

Although this 12 Miles West production is a world premiere, Urban Burb was completed ten years ago. In the interim, sadly, author Rose Caruso passed away. These facts likely account for some dated references and, in the instance described above, some inconsistencies. A bit of rewriting and updating could readily remedy such matters. I also think that a more euphonious title would be helpful. How about Home Visits, the plural of a title which Caruso has given to one of her vignettes?

Tales of an Urban Burb is a light and intelligent comic entertainment which is sure to give audiences much pleasure.

Tales of an Urban Burb continues performances (Thurs., Fri, and Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 3 p.m.) through May 20, 2007 at 12 Miles West Theatre Company Center for the Arts, 562 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. Box Office: 973-259-9187; online: www.12MilesWest.org.

Tales of an Urban Burb by Rose Caruso; directed by Christian Ely

Cast
Hope……………………..Elizabeth Desantis
Valerie/Harriet………..Valerie Stack Dodge
Glenna/Janice/Aunt Mary……….Nora Hummel
Phil/Raymond/Sergei……………...Steve Kuhel
Harry/Peter………………...Stewart Schneck
Jean/Gwen………………………...Bev Sheehan


Photo courtesy of 12 Miles West


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- Bob Rendell



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