ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
All New People
According to his program bio, Zach Braff hasn't previously written any plays but he has received awards and commendations for his screenplay Garden State, as well as for his acting on the stage, in films and on TV. One has to commend Braff for ascribing to each of his characters more than a fair share of funny lines as well as the opportunity for the kind of inane behavior than would be generally afforded them on a TV sitcom. But one may also wonder at the play's conclusion what the motivation was for us to leave the comfort of our living room and our own assortment of. . .whatever.
Here is the situation: Charlie (Justin Bartha) must be very despondent on this his 35th birthday in order to contemplate suicide. I say contemplate as the play opens with him smoking a cigarette with his head in a loose noose fashioned from an extension cord suspended from the ceiling of his friend's summer beach house on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. As he hasn't yet kicked the chair out from under him, he is primarily concerned with what to do with the cigarette as the ash tray is far from his reach. But a good flick solves that problem. Now that was funny.
But it is suicidal interuptus for Charlie when real estate agent Emma (Krysten Ritter) opens the door suddenly and startles Charlie causing the chair to fall away his feet flailing the air as he struggles to keep the knot from tightening around his neck. Although it is the middle of winter, Emma, has come to make sure everything is shipshape for the prospective summer renters or as she calls them, " two cranky old Jews from the Newark suburbs," who are due momentarily.
As this is a comedy, a situation comedy, Emma decides that her first priority is to talk the seriously upset Charlie from completing his mission, but not before she succeeds in creating more havoc in her haste to deal with the situation when she upsets a modern art installation sending colored beads all over the floor. Motor-mouthed Emma also admits to being high, if not as visibly high as Charlie when she found him, is also faced with a very real dilemma.
Charlie is further irritated not only by the arrival of Emma's boyfriend, the local fire-chief/former high school drama teacher Myron (David Wilson Barnes), but also by the equally unexpected appearance of one hot-looking babe Kim (Anna Camp), a professional quot;escort," sent to cheer Charlie up by the friend whose house he has been given for the weekend. (" I'm a present. I'm yours for the night") The gags begin to flow: " Oh my God, we've won a prostitute," Myron yells out with delight. "I'm not a prostitute, I'm an escort," Kim replies, to which Myron responds,"And I'm a pressurized water courier."
It seems that Charlie, who may be lying (do we think?) tells them he was a fighter pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan and can no longer live with knowing that he has killed six people. Emma, a Brit without a green card, can't bear thinking that she could be sent back to London and face some serious charges (not to be disclosed here.) It also seems that Myron, whom Emma describes as" one of those people who straddle the line between sane and insane" apparently fights fires with the same efficiency with which he provides recreational drugs as the self-ascribed" personal concierge" of visiting VIPs to the island. He also has a past. Really?
That leaves Kim to bring validation to her chosen profession mostly through the blatant exposure of her intellectual shortcomings. Kim gets the most laughs, the kind generated simply by not being very bright. The main question is whether these people have been brought together, as Emma suggests, by a higher power to help Charlie. Cleverly devised filmed flashbacks (featuring Kevin Conway, Tony Goldwyn, and S. Epatha Merkerson) reveal each of character's darker back stories.
It's the story up front that poses most of the problems. Bartha, who made a terrific Broadway debut in the recent revival of Lend Me a Tenor, doesn't get much opportunity to be more than be leaden and sullen, a real downer despite the uppers — even when his truth comes out. With her character admittedly high from the start, Ritter has the problem of where to go with this before simply growing tiresome. Are we surprised that Emma in becoming tiresome and Charlie by remaining leaden are a match made in heaven?
Barnes, who previously won acclaim at the Second Stage in Gian Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw, is fine and funny enough as the island's " purveyor of distractions," particularly winning when coaxed into the spotlight (literally) and reciting a portion of Shylock's soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice. Barely the worse for their indulgences and their revelations, they somehow arrive at a climactic point where they become philosophical giving the play a darker texture and presumably giving us a reason to say that all the nonsense we have listened to and watched had some meaning. No one seems to care that the " two cranky Jews from the suburbs" never show up.
But more than merely finding a good reason to celebrate Charlie's 35th birthday, all four find themselves essentially committed to becoming new people, a very good idea. Alexander Dodge's efficient setting fulfills its obligation, as do Bobby Frederick Tilley II's costumes and Japhy Weideman' lighting. I was actually most amused by the young woman sitting near me in the audience who decided to pass the time by braiding her long hair.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company