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Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Kasey Williams and Claro de los Reyes.
Photo by Erin Smiley.

There always seems to be something magical or something happening that you just can't put your finger on in small towns, even if they initially appear to be Podunks. At least, that is what countless novels, films and plays would have us believe. And if there's no magic, there's a sage spitting out philosophies or spiritual jargon; the substance that tourist attractions are made of. Playwright Steve Ives runs with these ideas and many more in Bordertown, a story about the four F's typically associated with small towns: fate, friendship, fleeing and fantasy. When nine people take shelter from a tornado at a diner, they explore all four to pass the time. But even time proves to be one of those elusive variables that the visitors and townsfolk alike can't seem to grasp.

Tough cookie Sedona (an unnatural Kasey Williams) and Wyatt (an earnest Claro de los Reyes), the aforementioned sage, are the best of friends. In between working shifts at the diner, Sedona deals tarot cards and tests out her ability to impose her will on objects with Wyatt as a willing and doting participant. From the very beginning, the over-the-top dialogue is tinged with old English ("I reckon") and southern sayings that are more than a mouthful. The set by Jack Blacketer is inspired and rustic, with cast iron pots and pans, a bull-head skeleton, and lasso making up the background, but the jukebox looks inauthentic. Sedona and Wyatt both had hard-luck beginnings, but Wyatt has Sedona's beat by being left near a dumpster as a baby. Their boss, Hank Jones (T.D. White), is in the hole for 20,000 worth of gambling debt that Little Mick (Michael Kingsbaker, fabulous in a Joe-Pesci, gangster-type caricature) has come to collect. And in the middle of all this, a silent, older gentleman named George (Michael Bertolini) sits nearby and says very few words but "Are you him?" to every person, male or female, that comes into the diner.

Many potential "hims" come in, including Miles (Andrew Schechter) and his mute African-American friend Otto (Carey Hite) looking for directions to Mexico, the Meter Guy (Nick Fondulis) and Officer Becky Sexton (goofy and nonthreatening Marta Kuersten), all under what is meant to be pouring rain. Some of the actors come in with wet clothes and hair, and lighting designer Tim Kaufman and sound designer Henry Akona recreate thunder and lightning well, but their contributions are not consistent, nor are they progressive. The door to the diner opens repeatedly without visuals and sound, despite a brewing storm outside. When Sexton comes in, criminals are on their guard and the innocent look on with hope under Tom Berger's direction, but her entrance merits neither. Sexton is too relaxed and meek to prompt those responses, but she does have good comedic timing.

Unfortunately, the script has several issues with timing. For one, Ives inserts sob-filled life stories at inopportune times that are too expository and revealing of the truth. There are simply too many people opening up over the course of only a few hours under the threat of a storm that only gets ominous at the end. There is nothing to bait the audience into believing that these monologues need to take place. Secondly, George's purpose isn't revealed until the second act. The delay is not justified, and neither are the characters' disregard for him at some times and tolerance of him in others. Thirdly, the political angle, dressed in Meter Guy's carnal attachment to Hillary Clinton, is also introduced in the second act, and ripped off shamelessly from a popular Saturday Night Live skit. All in all, bad timing and groan-worthy lines such as "...one-winged angles trying to find your lost wing" sour the production.

Bordertown suffers also from an identity crisis. It's teeming with philosophical and religious references that are supposed to be taken seriously, but then also incorporates jokes that are juvenile and crass. The overall tint of the show is comedic, but there is slapstick intermixed with dry humor that only succeeds marginally. Bordertown is on the edge indeed; it's on the edge of two places, different genres, and of making sense. Despite a touching relationship between Sedona and Wyatt, much of the production can be remedied. There are some some good moments, but they are few and far and between. If the play is sifted to save those good parts, then Bordertown may have a better future. At present, it's twisting like something caught in the tornado in its plot.

Through May 11
14th Street Theater, 344 East 14th Street between 1st & 2nd Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Smarttix

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