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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

All New People
Stray Cat Theatre


Angelica Howland, Michael Peck, Kim Richard, Joseph Kremer
The Stray Cat Theatre is presenting the Arizona premiere of Zach Braff's first play All New People. Braff, star of the television show "Scrubs" and the award winning filmmaker of Garden State, has crafted a well written comedy with characters that are well formed and an ending that pays off. The Stray Cat Theatre production has a pretty good cast who easily handles the comic, dramatic and more absurd moments of the play, with nice pacing and direction from Stray Cat's Associate Artistic Director Louis Farber.

Set in Braff's home state of New Jersey, in the Jersey Shore town of Long Beach Island in the off season, Braff's play focuses on sad and lonely Charlie and three "new people" who come into his life. When the play begins Charlie is hanging from a noose about to kill himself. An interruption from Emma, an ex-pat from London who turns up to show the house to potential renters, forces Charlie to stop his plan and Emma claims it is "divine intervention" that she showed up when she did. Charlie's announcement that he killed six people, and that is why he is killing himself, prompts Emma to call in her friend Myron, a local fire chief who also happens to be the town's drug dealer, to help her help Charlie. When Kim, a high priced escort that a friend of Charlie's hired to spend the night with Charlie, shows up, these "new people" in Charlie's life go about trying to cheer him up and find out exactly why he was trying to commit suicide. Even with Charlie's consistent pleas that they all go and leave him alone, they refuse, afraid that he will go back to his earlier plan. In doing so, we end up finding out just as much about each of them as we do about the real reason Charlie had his neck in a noose. It is a play about the lies people tell, both big and small, and the things they do to hide their pain and sadness. As Myron says "we all have pain."

The use of four short filmed segments interspersed throughout the play to give us background information about each of the characters is a nice touch, though the first one that gives us a glimpse into Emma's past is a bit jarring at first, since seeing a filmed sequence in a play is something we aren't expecting. And, while there are a couple of moments in the play that reek of contrived TV sitcom plot elements, especially pratfalls that are a result of beads falling off an expensive bust, Braff has come up with four characters that we are interested in finding out more about and he has written some big R-rated laughs as well. I was happily surprised that the play, just like Garden State, has nothing to do with Hollywood and, with the exception of Kim who is an aspiring singer, none of the characters has anything to do with the entertainment industry. Unlike many recent plays that don't have well-formed endings, or ones where the audience is left to determine what ultimately happens to the characters, Braff has written a lovely and touching ending that nicely offsets some of the more zany moments of the play.

Michael Peck is Charlie, and the part is the least showy one of the four, requiring Peck to spend many moments saying nothing and only reacting to the people around him. Peck does a pretty good job as Charlie, especially in portraying the pain and suffering of his past. Emma is almost the exact opposite of Charlie, unable to sit still or keep her mouth shut and Angelica Howland does an excellent job in showing Emma's intensity. Since most of this is the effect of the drugs, medication and alcohol that Emma consumes throughout the play, it only adds to Howland's ability to keep up the insanity.

Joseph Kremer, who was impressive in the recent Actor's Theatre production of A Steady Rain, is just as notable here as Myron. Myron enjoys fucking with people, even happy to admit that he likes doing that. He is the college jock who is grown up physically but unable to emotionally grow up. He sees nothing wrong with selling drugs, partying with teenagers and harassing people. Kremer easily gets across the immaturity of Myron but also allows us to see the pain inside as well. Kim Richard is Kim and, even though she is the last to arrive at the house, she steals just about every scene she is in and just about the whole show. Kim is an escort but is also taking college courses online, "studying feelings." This is just one of the many humorous comments Kim makes, but while she is the stereotypical dumb blonde, Braff has written some great lines for her to deliver and Richard has no problem in wringing every comical moment out of the dialogue. It is a very impressive performance.

Braff has crafted a well written play with interesting characters who are all damaged in different ways. Farber's direction allows the play to unfold nicely with adept pacing that mirrors Braff's writing and lets us slowly learn about the characters. He easily handles the comical moments and the dramatic ones as well. My only complaint is that there were a few lines not heard due to the audience's laughter so Farber should instruct the actors to pause before delivering their next line to allow the laughs to subside.

Creative elements are simple yet effective with a serviceable set design from Eric Beeck, effective lighting from Ellen Bone, and character perfect costumes from Daniel Chihuahua, including a smashing and sexy ensemble for Kim. One of the film pieces also includes some humorous animation from Johnny McHone.

When All New People begins, Charlie is sad and alone. But something about these three crazy characters that come into his life, people he would probably never be friends with outside of the circumstances, forces him to take a pause in his suicide attempt and makes him realize that, whether he likes it or not, he is no longer alone. "Why would a suicidal man care what people think about him?" is something that Myron asks of Charlie and it is a line that makes you stop to realize that sometimes people that come into your life at a time of need are truly your closest friends. With many laugh out loud moments, a cast that more than delivers on the comic and touching scenes, and nicely paced direction, the Stray Cat Theatre's Arizona premiere of All New People is a winner for anyone seeking a grown up comedy with heart.

All New People at the Stray Cat Theatre runs through December 22nd with performances at the Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. 6th Street in Tempe. Tickets can be ordered by calling 480 227-1766 or at straycattheatre.org.

Director: Louis Farber
Production Stage Manager: Amanda Keegan
Assistant Stage Manager: Mychal Anaya
Scenic Design: Eric Beeck
Technical Director: Chase Budden
Costume Design: Daniel Chihuahua
Property Design: Marcos D. Voss
Lighting Design: Ellen Bone
Sound Design: Joey Trahan
Media Design: Jon Baranick
Animation: Johnny McHone
Stunt Choreographer: David Barker
Dialect Advisor: David Vining

Cast:
Charlie: Michael Peck
Emma: Angelica Howard
Myron: Joseph Kremer
Kim: Kim Richard


Photo: John Groseclose

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix



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