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A CurtainUp Review
By Michael Walek
Phoenix by Scott Organ comes to Off-Broadway from a premiere run at the pretigious Humana Festival. Sadly, it turns out to be a somewhat less interesting version of the popular 2007 movie Knocked Up..
The two hander is about Sue (DeAnna Lenhart) and Bruce (Dusty Brown). We meet them four months after they had a one night stand. Their "reunion" at a coffee shop is prompted by Sue's need to tell Bruce three things. The first is that she had fun on that one and only time they were together. The second is that they can never see each other again. The third. . .well, if you can't guess what the third thing is, maybe you will find this play compelling.
If your answer to that last question was that she's pregnant, you win. He's fine with her plan to get an abortion — but wants to come with her. From there it's on to one obvious plot point after another.
Mr. Organ writes in very broad strokes which makes Bruce and Sue not so much real characters as cliches. Everything that comes from their mouths you could prompt from your seat (which might just be more fun than hearing it from them). As Sue and Bruce move from their one-night stand into a fragile relationship, the author relies on the unseen first date to make us understand why they like one another. But it's not enough. We need for these characters to subvert our expectations and for the playwright to more sharply and originally connect them to all couples who become cliches when they fall in love or face big life lessons.
The fact that the play is set in a theater the size of a small studio apartment complements the intimate nature of the show, but director Seth Barrish doesn't make the most of this. He keeps the characters trapped at a table or on the floor. The basic blocking, barren set and generic costumes do little to add texture or give the audience no clue as to where they are. Perhaps if the dialogue really sparkled, one would not notice the absence of costume, set designer or lighting designer as much.
DeAnna Lenhart and Dusty Brown have a challenge on their hands and both do a good job with what they have, but they never go beyond what is given to them. As written, Sue is an annoying person, so it's hard not to be ultimately irritated by Lenhart. Brown gets to stand out with a speech about a tragic past relationship that represents the play's best writing. It's a pity that the real talent shown here is wasted during the rest of the play. There is some humor and a little more of that might have helped offset the sheer obviousness of this situation.
It's too bad that Phoenix isn't up to other Barrow group productions like Pentecost which introduced Curtainup's editor to the company.