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Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by David Hurst - January 21, 2020

Jules Latimer, Ann McDonough, Christopher Dylan White,
and Eddie K. Robinson

Photo by Ahron R. Foster
Currently enjoying its world premiere in Atlantic 2's subterranean space, Paris, a 90-minute drama about a group of dysfunctional retail workers struggling to make ends meet in rural Vermont, marks the Off-Broadway playwriting debut of acclaimed actress Eboni Booth. Directed with unfussy simplicity by Knud Adams on a terrific multi-layered set courtesy of David Zinn, the cast of Paris is wonderful in this quiet play that is an indictment against poverty and economic desperation. But Booth's incisive writing is frequently frustrating when it should be illuminating. She introduces many questions and plot points in Paris she never resolves or revisits. To be sure, a couple of those mysteries can be teasing when they're used as a writing device, but a long list of them can leave a bad taste in an audience's mouth.

Set in 1995 in the fictional town of Paris, Vermont, the play opens with Emmie (Jules Latimer) in a nerve-racking interview with Gar (Eddie K. Robinson) for an hourly position working at Berry's, a dollar-type discount store. Emmie has a serious cut on her left cheek that's covered by a bandage, but it's clear she's had some sort of accident. Gar, who has risen through the ranks at Berry's from the stock room to management, is an off-putting interviewer with a cruel sense of humor. But he hires Emmie at five dollars an hour and she's thrilled to have a second job augmenting her existing one serving drinks at a local bar. During their interview, an older worker named Dev (James Murtaugh) bursts into the employee break room intent on getting first Gar and then Emmie to join his get-rich-quick pyramid scheme, but Gar sends him packing. Quickly, Emmie sees firsthand that the dysfunction level of everyone at Berry's is pretty high.

Emmie is off to a shaky start as she interacts with coworkers Logan (Christopher Dylan White), a young, wannabe rapper, and the older Wendy (Ann McDonough), who we learn is married to Dev. While unpacking and pricing sweatshirts, Emmie damages one of the sweatshirts and, when Gar arrives unexpectedly, Logan and Wendy concoct a preposterous lie to cover for her. Emmie goes along with the deception, but Gar knows their story is a fabrication. Rounding out Emmie's coworkers is Maxine (Danielle Skraastad), a single mother with four kids who lives in a motel room and has an axe to grind with everyone and everything.

Bruce McKenzie and Jules Latimer
Photo by Ahron R. Foster
At this point, Paris takes a dark turn. Emmie accidentally learns Gar is running an illegal side business at Berry's when a shady character named Carlisle (Bruce McKenzie) shows up looking for Gar and leaves a message for him that's unmistakable. When Gar learns of the message, he lashes out at Emmie, Logan and Wendy before disappearing entirely from the play. Sadly, Gar's motivations and fate remain a mystery, but his disappearance is only one unresolved question. Another is the abrupt ending that's as clunky as it is disappointing.

Fortunately for the playwright and director, the talented cast makes most of Paris work even when the writing is vague or defies credulity. As Emmie, Jules Latimer, a senior at Juilliard, makes a beautifully understated Off-Broadway debut as a young African-American woman who is unseen by the people around her, despite the fact she grew up in Paris. (Emmie keeps telling everyone she's from Paris but they respond by saying, "then why don't I know you?") As Logan, Christopher Dylan White movingly reveals layers of angst and frustration when Gar changes his shift hours, forcing him to miss a rap concert with his band. And as Wendy, the crafty Ann McDonough plays the peacemaker among the staff as they argue, fight, and struggle with their lot in life. Eddie K. Robinson is scary as Gar, but no one is scarier than Bruce McKenzie as Carlisle, whose creepy scene when he intimidates Emmie is positively cringe making. The bravura turn in Paris comes from Danielle Skraastad as Maxine, a woman with a hair-trigger temper whose rage at her circumstances is off the charts. Like her castmates, Skraastad takes what's two-dimensional on the page and makes it three-dimensional on the stage in a mesmerizing tour-de-force.

Booth clearly has talent as a writer, but Paris needs another draft to be the hard-hitting drama it has the potential to be.

Through February 16, 2020
Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, New York NY
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