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The Moonlight Room
The Moon Light Room Moves to the Beckett Theater for An Open Run
by Elyse Sommer
I've followed Jeff Cohen's productions for years and have come to think of his Worth Street Theater company as the Worthy Worth. Somehow, scheduling problems kept me from seeing Four and The Moonlight Room, when they premiered at the Worth's Tribeca Playhouse on Reade Street. Both introduced new playwriting voices, Happily, both plays transferred so that I caught up with Christopher Shinn's Four when it moved to MTC and have now had a chance to see Tristine Skyler's The Moonlight Room as it begins an open-ended run at it's new home, the Beckett Theatre.
Laura Breckenridge and Brendan
(Photo: Kate Raudenbush )
The production fits into the 100-seat like the proverbial glove and with few if any adjustments needed. The stage is somewhat wider than that of the Reade Street venue, the seats more comfortable and the location central enough to attract a wider audience. To insure the success of the transfer the five actors from the original production are again on stage to nervously await the outcome of the emergency room doctors' battle to save the life of the unseen but pivotal sixth character, a teenager who was rushed to the hospital by two friends after he overdosed on drugs.
While I respect Les Gutman's always impeccable taste and we more often than not see eye to eye on shows, I wasn't as put off as he was by the familiarity of the play's issues. In fact, what I admired most -- aside from the truly stellar performances -- is Ms. Skyler translating the much explored issues into such a moving play in which the older as well as young characters emerge from that anonymous, ominous hospital waiting room as fully realized characters. Skyler does lapse into what he called "sum-up speeches" but this happens mostly in the second act and isn't a fatal blemish on an otherwise auspicious debut.
Les is also right in stating that The Moonlight Room, like Four, speaks to young audiences. However, being a far remove from that age demographic, I nevertheless found myself fully caught up in the pain and helplessness and unbearable slow motion atmosphere of that waiting room. I therefore wouldn't want readers to think of this as a play with an age limited appeal. Like any good play it resonates personally; in my case it triggered painful memories of a waiting room in a hospital where my son had undergone emergency surgery after being hit by a truck. Director Cohen managed to fully capture my remembered sense of the clock never moving. However, he never allows this necessarily slow pace succumb to stasis.
Unlike Joshua's "half stepbrother " -- a young doctor who knows his medicine but seems tone deaf as a diagnostician -- Ms. Skyler is wonderfully tuned in to the language and mix of naivete and wisdom of these Manhattan kids. It's that dramatist's eye and ear for nuance that makes the less than perfect aspects of this first play easy to overlook.
The young audiences who I hope will help to keep the Beckett's seats filled for a healthy run are indeed likely to fit Les's "NYC-centric" tag. They will appreciate Joshua's snide comments about how Sally and her mother have a "completely suburban life style in the middle of Manhattan" (they have a car and use it to shop at Sam's Club in New Jersey!). On the other hand Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, which appealed to a similar audience, has enjoyed many regional productions. And so if you're reading this some place other than New York, don't be surprised if The Moonlight Room also shows up in a theater near you.
PRODUCTION NOTES FOR The Moonlight Room's Off Broadway Run
The cast, director and designers are the same as in the Worth Street below. The running time is 2 hours plus an intermission, with the break coming 1 hour and 15 minutes into the play.
Arielle Tepper & Freddy DeMann have joined forces with Worth Street Theater Company
Beckett Theater on Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. (9/10 Aves), 212/239-6200
From 2/24/04; opening 3/01/04
Monday, Wed, Thurs, Fri !8pm; Sat. @ 2pm and 8pm; Sun @3pm and 7pm
Tickets: $45 for all performances; $15 student rush for every performance (cash only).
Review by Elyse Sommer based on 2/28/04 press preview.
Final performance 5/02/04
Our Review of the Worth Street Production by Les
It's the city of the lost and missing.
What's wrong with kid's today?
Each generation of parents (it's reasonable to assume, since Adam and Eve) asks the same question as if it were a case of first impression. Playwright Tristine Skyler puts it in the mouth of Mr. Wells (Lawrence James), the perplexed father of a young man who is in the emergency room of New York Hospital having his stomach pumped of the drugs he took at a concert.
Skyler postulates a post-9/11 answer to the question, revealed in the quotation that appears above. But the story told is a familiar one: an adolescent daughter, Sal (Laura Breckenridge), doesn't get along with her divorced, depressed and seemingly over-protective worry-wart of a mother, Mrs. Kelly (Kathryn Layng). She has the obligatory badboy boyfriend, Joshua (Brendan Sexton III), which doesn't help matters. (In our era, that means he's a drug courier.) Amidst a plethora of teen-ager issues (pregnancy is the only salient one that seems to be missing), along comes an event that illuminates for Sal what her mother has been going through and, as night follows day, Sal comes of age.
The Moonlight Room is Skyler's first play, and though it reveals a fairly keen ear for dialogue, it feels like the work of someone still trying to find their footing. It sometimes has a forced nature: early on, in its humor, and later in a series of sum-up speeches that have been provided to several of the characters. The latter is especially true of Joshua's step-brother, Adam (Mark Rosenthal), a medical resident, whose presence in the play seems to have no other purpose. The entire play is set in the emergency room waiting room, over a day-and-a-half period, and the flow of characters into and out of the setting has a choppy and often inexplicable quality. Perhaps Jeff Cohen's generally well-considered direction can be faulted for some of the transitions, but many of the weaknesses are more structural.
The performances are generally fine. Mr. Sexton captures both the cadence and mannerisms of Josh impeccably, against which Ms. Breckenridge's Sal reads a bit pedestrian, though she manages the Fox TV gestalt of her character well. Both parents are represented well: Ms. Layng renders Mrs. Kelly with an apt mix of emotional baggage and cluelessness, whereas Mr. James registers both his character's thoughtful process and the resulting anguish exceptionally well. Mr. Rosenthal is well-suited to the unintentionally humorous med-speak his character can't seem to avoid.
One can appreciate the appeal of this play to Worth Street Theater: it speaks to a not-insubstantial contemporary set of issues, and quite directly to a young, particularly NYC-centric audience. Its link to Worth Street's well-received production of Christopher Shinn's Four a few seasons ago (later seen at MTC, reviews of both productions linked below) is inescapable. But it doesn't shed a great deal of fresh light (from the moon or elsewhere) on its subject, nor does it provide all that much for its audience to rally around.
The Moonlight Room |
by Tristine Skyler
Directed by Jeff Cohen
with Laura Breckenridge, Lawrence James, Kathryn Layng, Mark Rosenthal and Brendan Sexton III
Set Design: Marion Williams
Lighting Design: Scott Bolman
Costume Design: Kim Gill
Sound Design: Laura Grace Brown
A production of Worth Street Theater Company
Running time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
Tribeca Playhouse, 111 Reade Street (West Broadway/Church)
Telephone: (212) 868-4444
MON, THURS - SAT @8, SUN @5 except 11/16 @8; $15
Opening November 3, 2003, closing November 24, 2003 -- extended to December 7th
Reviewed by Les Gutman based
on 11/1/03 performance