Off Broadway Reviews
The final installment of the 2004 EATFest features the two longest pieces, Woman With Coffee and Book Signing. Both plays tamper wonderfully with format and style, utilizing stop-and-start and repetition to drive their points home.
Woman With Coffee by Ted LoRusso gives the audience a glimpse into the fraying mind of mental illness. A former professor is now suffering from severe memory loss and short term memory problems, combined with fits of severe outrage and inappropriate behavior. It is put upon his housekeeper to not only care for him, but care about him as well. The fragmented writing style in the opening sequence does a marvelous job of hinting to the audience how conversations might be going inside the professor's head.
Kurt Kingsley not only looks the part of a professor, but his mannerisms and demeanor match up as well. As his mind deteriorates, the frustration felt by the professor while desperately searching for a permanently lost word is palpable, if not heart-breaking. As his nursemaid, Ellen Reilly falls wholeheartedly between anxious concern and aggravated distress, torn between her duty to serve the professor and her desire to help him. Director Steven McElroy succeeds in turning what was probably a daunting conglomeration of senseless words and phrases on the page into a short play brimming with subtext, emotion, and raw humanity. Woman With Coffee contributes a short but important angle on the increasingly tragic effects of mental illness.
The second presentation takes a dramatic and sometimes cynical look at the outcome of writing itself, and all that an author has to put up with after giving over their precious work to the masses. Book Signing follows a good-natured if slightly egotistical author who goes beyond the monotonous boundaries of the book tour to be changed by the people who read his words.
Carson Downbridge (Jason O'Connell) has it all: the turtleneck sweater, the tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, even the moody yet approachable book jacket photo. He also has the cheap wine and cheese, the disinterested book store employees, the overbearing fans, and the sentence of making polite small talk while signing copies of his work. Playwright Emily Mitchell has Carson speak directly to the audience, freezing the action when it suits him to comment on his surroundings and companions. This perfectly complements Carson's somewhat patronizing style, allowing him to scoff at the mere mortals who turn out to hear him read ("and then he blah blah blah, blah bladdi-blah"), and those who fall asleep at the sound of his voice.
As the book signing progresses, however, the individuals (all played superbly by a chameleon-like Aimee Howard) he encounters each offer him a different take on what his book means to them. Especially notable is the elderly gentleman whose deceased wife used to bring him to book signings; now he goes in her honor, collecting autographed works to add to her collection. Without veering into sappy sentimentalism, director Rasa Allan Kazlas keeps the merry-go-round pace tight and coherent. Book Signing doesn't try to turn a bad man into a good man - for Carson is neither completely bad nor good - but he is certainly changed and his pessimism is lessened after learning that his words do impact those who read them.
Emerging Artists Theatre's Artistic Director Paul Adams is fond of reminding the audience before each show that without them, theatre would not exist. Mr. Adams understands that by presenting new and unknown works, the audience may not always be as plentiful, but that certainly does not stop him from giving his precious audience pieces of real quality and promise. The EATFest is a valuable experience for anyone searching for innovative new works that still adhere to the two rules of good theatre: professionalism and entertainment.
Emerging Artists Theatre Company