Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

New Jersey World Premieres
Misadventures of Patty ... at Centenary Stage
and Foreign Exchange at Playwrights' Theatre

Also see Bob's reviews of Resident Alien and Emil

Below are reviews of world premiere productions of two unconventional plays which complete our coverage of the four new plays with which four of New Jersey's most adventurous and valuable theatres greeted the month of March.

Claire O'Sheeran and Michael Shelle
The Strange Misadventures of Patty, Patty's Dad, Patty's Friend Jen And a Bunch of Other People proves to be far less unwieldy than its awkward, elongated title.

A standard but heartfelt story is at the core of the play. Patty, an economist, is an upwardly mobile executive specializing in corporate acquisitions. She is contacted when her father is hospitalized with a stroke. He has been left seriously disabled and exhibits aphasia.

Patty now faces the dismal prospect of having to assume responsibility for the care of the alcoholic father who abandoned her and her mother when Patty was five years old.

Patty is decked out with musical interludes, dance movement, sketch-like scenes (which include the exploration of social economic theory) and fantasy plot elements, all of which combine to provide considerable high gloss theatricality, and some sharp wit and wisdom.

The fantasy plot elements largely revolve around Patty's best friend Jen, a cancer researcher who has magical superpowers. Since breaking up with her fiancé, Jen refuses to use her superpowers, in order to avoid manipulating her relationships so that her accomplishments and relationships can reflect her personal qualities. The fantasy aspect also includes a pair of magical silver boots.

Although most of the play occurs in the respective apartments of Patty and her father, the sketch-like scenes take place in such locations as offices, a gym, and a coffee house. They involve any number of subsidiary characters played by six very able, very active actors.

In its world premiere, Patty is still a work in progress. There is a lack of emotional involvement as the playful structure seems to deflect from the resonance of the central element of the play (the evolution of Patty and her relationship with her father). It feels as if author Allison Moore found these emotions too painful.

Moore is clearly capable of involving us emotionally. For example, when Patty is angry with her father, who is clearly in need of the services of a day care worker she has hired for him, she tells him:

... when it comes time to pay Norah once a month, I'll get drunk and call you and tell you that you're too expensive to pay for. It seemed to work for you.

Fantasy elements are inconsistent. Why is it that Patty almost requests Jen to eliminate her dad by shrinking him until he ceases to exist, but does not request less drastic magic to relieve her burden? It could logically be developed that at heart she does not want her burden relieved, but that notion is not developed here.

Patty explicitly connects her sense of obligation to her father to her Catholicism. This thread, mentioned more than once, is never developed.

With fine tuning, this most promising play should be able to overcome such kinks as these.

Allison Moore has developed this play under the auspices of the Centenary Stage Company's Women Playwrights' Project. Given the skill and promise which Moore demonstrates here, it is not surprising that several other Moore plays have received development support from significant theatres throughout the country.

Moore should be most pleased at the quality of the production which Patty has received. Director Margo Whitcomb, ably abetted by her fine cast and the abstract scenic design of Will Rothfus (lighting by Jeffrey E.Salzberg), has integrated the varying moods and styles of this imaginative play and kept it moving briskly over its intermissionless 95 minutes.

Clare O'Sheeran is outstanding as Patty. As, under the tutelage of her friend Jen, Patty moves from bitterness and indecision, O'Sheeran conveys Patty's development into a rounded person comfortable with herself with ingratiating verve.

Michael Shelle is fully up to the difficult task of playing Patty's aphasic father. He conveys to us the inexpressible frustration of someone who knows that he is cannot convey his thoughts accurately. Dana Halsted is solid and credible as Jen as is Steven L. Barron as her ex-fiancé.

Centenary Stage Company is to be commended and congratulated on this production. Although Patty is not yet as emotionally involving as it should be, it is witty and intelligent, and well worth your time and attention.

The Strange Misadventures of Patty, Patty's Dad, Patty's Friend Jen, and a Bunch of Other People continues performances through March 13 at the Centenary Stage Company on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840; box office: 908-979-0900; online

The Strange Misadventures of Patty… by Allison Moore; directed by Margo Whitcomb; Cast: Clare O'Sheeran (Patty); Michael Shelle (Patty's Dad); Dana Halsted (Jen); Steven L. Barron (Jack/ Ashby); Jennifer Huntington (Mrs. Downs/ Kate); Laura Quackenbush (Rhonda/ Vanessa); Ghris Barber (Jim/ Clark/ Cassidy); Desiree Fitzgerald (Sue); Greg Selm-Orr (Clerk).

Photo: Karen DeVita

Jun Kim, Grace Hsu,
Ames Adamson and Fred Burrell

Peter Hays' Foreign Exchange is a serious and imaginative play whose process of development began six years ago at Playwrights Theatre in Madison. Hays is a thoughtful writer who, in part, was motivated to write this play by his distress over the role which his beloved grandfather played in the building of the camps in which Japanese Americans (and resident aliens) were interned during World War II.

Unfortunately, in its world premiere production here, Foreign Exchange is attenuated, contrived and, to a large extent, unconvincing in its emotional underpinnings.

The play only truly comes alive in scenes involving international currency trading and the acquisition of an American bank involved in such trading by a Japanese one. In fact, if author Hays were to turn his attention to developing and expanding this aspect of the play, there is a strong possibility that he would have a far better work to offer.

The program succinctly informs us that "locations and boundaries overlap, including the capital markets, trading floor and offices at the Pacific National Bank in San Francisco, Karen's apartment, Golden Gate Park, Aya's farm near Sacramento." "Time: 1985 and 1942." There is also a scene at a memorial at the Manzanar Relocation Center. Actually the memorial dominates the eye appealing, but overly stylized set.

I would demur on one point. Any events which depict events prior to 1985 take place in the minds of Luther Lebrecque and Karen Fukuta as they re-imagine past events (from 1942 and later).

Karen assumes employment as a currency trader at the bank. She is paired with senior trader Luther who greatly aids her in acclimating to the position. They become romantically involved. However, Luther is troubled by the memory of his grandfather Hank who played an aggressive role in interning Japanese Americans. Karen is troubled by thoughts of her grandmother Aya who along with Karen's mother was among those interned. Aya died long before Karen was born. We share their memories as Hank and Aya appear onstage. At times it appears that Hank and Aya are actually apparitions. Are they imaginings or apparitions? I think Hays wants it both ways. The result is confusion. It is neither lyrical nor mysterious.

Furthermore, it is a very long reach when Hays attempts to equate the attitudes which caused the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 with Luther feeling betrayed when it appears to him that Karen may have been spying for Japanese bankers.

Lastly, Hays and director John Pietrowski seem overly enamored of the ghostly and lyrical elements of the play. Hank (particularly) and Aya each express the views and memories that each has of 1942 with deadening repetition. After all matters are resolved, Karen and Luther visit the Manzanar memorial and interminably converse in an enervating final scene.

Much is made of Karen's desire to continue the kite making and flying tradition of her female forebears. Yet Karen never knew her grandmother, and her mother would never even speak of it as a result of a painful incident during her internment. Aya's memory or apparition tells Karen of this incident, and it is here that another problem rears its ugly head: much of the information provided by Aya could not possibly be known to Karen. Placing it in Karen's mind is only a device for Hays to relate it to the audience. His contrivance is glaring.

On the other hand, Hays seems to really know his way around investment banking. The opening scenes when Luther and then Luther and Karen partake in currency trading are dynamite. The fears and suspicions that are aroused when it is clear that Karen has a special relationship with Yoshi Shimada, the representative of Japanese bank which is in the process of acquiring their U.S. bank, and Luther's ultimate confrontation with Yoshi are far superior to the balance of the play. Whether its research or experience, Hays really seems to know the territory.

Jun Kim is superlative in the role of Yoshi. A native of Japan, he delivers the fury that a Japanese banker would likely feel at being regarded as dishonorable. He does not soften the portrayal to court the goodwill of an American audience. There is an arrogance about his Yoshi which caused this American to dislike him. However, seen through Japanese eyes, his response is totally appropriate. Here is the only true culture clash in this play. This role and performance deserves a play built around it. Bravo!

Grace Hsu is a most appealing Karen. Ames Adamson lacks a little weight as Luther. Jo Yang and Fred Burrell perform most ably as their respective grandparents.

Special praise is due the original music by Danys Levasseur. It seems to combine the sound of Asian music with western jazz motifs. However, all that I really know is it is appropriate and sounds terrific.

Foreign Exchange continues performances through March 14 at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-514-1787, ext. 30; online

Foreign Exchange by Peter Hays; Directed by John Pietrowski; Cast: Ames Adamson (Luther Lebrecque); Grace Hsu (Karen Fukuta); Jo Yang (Aya Yakamura); Fred Burrell (Hank Lebrecque); Jun Kim (Yoshi Shimada).

Photo: Jerry Dalia

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Bob Rendell

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