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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
" The difference between vegetables and human beings is that only humans can love."
The trouble with this definition by the head of the family currently in the spotlight at the modest walk-up theater that the 29th Street Rep calls home, is that his family's love falls into the legume category. Mothering comes with heavy doses of punishment and little affection. Communication is lost in a din of empty talk. Pregnancy grows from ashes (literally!) rather than affection.
As in Pig, seen two years ago, playwright Tammy Ryan takes us to an unnamed working class neighborhood in Queens. (Ed. Note: In case you're from out of town, one of New York City's five boroughs whose citizens are often disdainfully sneered at as "the bridges and tunnel crowd" -- code words for a tag of "low in cultural sophistication"). As in that play the family we meet is hardly happy-go-lucky. Unlike Pig, or any of the other gritty and gripping dramas produced by this company, the realistic and well-paced first act turns into a surrealistic, repetitious mess after the intermission.
Even the excellent performances can't avoid a sense of a play whose characters have lost their way. Brigit (Lois Markle), is just right as a mother who's failed her daughters and herself with her penchant for burying her feelings in a non-nonsense veneer. The daughters growing up under her often punitive regime are: Toney (Moira MacDonald) an aneurexic virgin bent on escape via a law degree, Moira (Elizabeth Elkins) unhappily pregnant, April (Paula Ewin) the outspoken daughter brought back by dad's ( Edward Cannan) sudden death .
As the vegetable garden growing from the dead father's ashes "planted" in the basement of this dysfunctional family home, (there seems to be no other kind worth writing about these days), grows out of control, so does Ms. Ryan seem to lose the rudder to steer her cast towards a meaningful conclusion. She lets her garden's tentacles mysteriously reach through the floor of the dining room and we no longer have one pregnant woman but four. Since the realistic laying bare of the abuses that have contributed towards the crippling each of these women emotionally, continues throughout, the surrealism of the second act malfunctions like the characters' lives. It's too bad, because the dialogue and the action of the first act is filled with promise. It would be a lot easier to come away satisfied if the missteps came first.
As already mentioned, the cast is very fine. Miss Elkins and Moira MacDonald who made outstanding contributions to last season's excellent Bobby Supreme (see link), again prove themselves to be fine actresses. Edward Cannan as the father whose ashes kick up the dust of over thirty years of buried grievances, epitomizes a particularly irritating, non-listening macho male.
Even if not disappointing, Vegetable Love, is, like all this company's plays, not intended as a commercial fun show but true to the mission for producing "daring, thought-provoking" plays. Part of being daring is, of course, to dare to stumble occasionally.
LINKS TO OTHER 29TH ST. REP PLAYS
Consumer Note: This is not a house for the handicapped -- besides the walkup location, the steps leading to the 60 seats are rather steep. If you go on a hot night, be sure you have a bottle of water at the ready and dress light. The air conditioning is apparently too noisy for the actors, and since the night I attended was a hot one, the discomfort index was at an all-time high . The muggy heat is bound to abate before the end of this show and by the time the company's season continues. It's also worth mentioning that this is a theater experience that's affordable to anyone who can afford to go to a movie--- there's even a Thursday pay-what-you will night!.