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A CurtainUp Review
Where Do We Live

People are dying in this building. They are dying of poverty, of drugs. I see them every day, there are no jobs, I see their children, they go to schools that are falling apart--- Stephen
Not all of them---Tyler
Well-- some of them---Stephen
Fine, but why does it upset you so much?---Tyler
I live here -- Stephen
Luke MacFarlane and Jacob Pitts
Luke MacFarlane and Jacob Pitts (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Where Do We Live is Christopher Shinn's third Off-Broadway play. As in Four (his first and best), which transferred from the off-off-Broadway Worth Street Theatre to MTC's Second Stage, and last season's What Didn't Happen, Shinn's latest venture is framed by a defining date in the American experience.

In Four he used that most American of holidays, the Fourth of July, to examine the isolation and desires of four average individuals from a cross-section of American life in the year 1996, when the author himself was only a few years older than the inexperienced homosexual teenager on his first date. In What Didn't Happen, the playwright moved three years forward to explore what did and didn't happen to collapse the dreams of a group of once hopeful Clintonites.

Where Do We Live uses September 11, 2001 as a focal point in a tale of Manhattanites whose lives were already bombed out before the World Trade Center bombing. It features his largest cast yet -- 9 actors, 15 characters -- but then this isn't Hartford (the author's home town and the setting for Four) or a country cottage (the setting for What Didn't Happen) . The two key characters, are two men of approximately the same age who live in the same building but travel in very different worlds: Stephen (Luke MacFarlane) is gay, white, a middle class college graduate and writer with an overactive liberal sensibility; Shedrick AKA Shedd, (Burl Moseley), is heterosexual, African-American, and, for lack of an entree into a better way of life, a drug dealer.

The people figuring importantly in Stephen's life are his boyfriend Tyler (Jacob Pitts), a fledgling actor who lives off a trust fund and unlike the politically intense Stephen manages to be blind to the hopeless and needy; Stephen's college chum Patricia (Emily Bergl) who, as the play's voice of reason, lends a sympathetic ear to the conflicted Stephen as well as two gung-ho Republican stock traders (Aaron Stanford and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, in the first of their multiple roles) who frequent the bar where she works. There's also Leo (Aaron Yoo), an Asian gay man who adds another wrinkle into the racism issue when he sees Stephen's rejection of his overtures at a club as one more sign of his having "no access" and being "totally ignored."

In Shedrick's adjoining but different universe, we have his crippled uncle Timothy (Daryl Edwards), Lily (Liz Stauber), the sexy young Brit who's his white supplier's (Aaron Stanford again) girlfriend but seems to like to hang out with Shed. It is Timothy's habit of knocking on Stephen's door to borrow cigarettes and money that connects the lives of the two men and causes dissent in each apartment. Tyler considers Stephen a patsy for responding to Timothy's borrowing -- Timothy's involvement with Stephen also stirs up Shed's simmering resentment against the older man.

In his debut as director and writer, Shinn has created a visually effective, if often too busy, production. The messy personal and professional lives and the multiple issues play out on Rachel Hauck's versatile side by side set which cleverly accommodates the bar where Patricia works and a gay club into the side by side apartments. While he's elicited strong performances from the cast -- particularly from supporting players Jesse Tyler Feguson, Emily Bergl and Luke McFarlane -- he has failed to keep it from drifting along rather aimlessly and to make characters like Leo more a mouthpiece for moral statements than a real person. At almost two hours and without intermission, the issue stuffed dialogue rarely rises to really strong dramatic heights. As if he was aware of this, the director, has relied heavily on extensive and explicit sexual scenes to stimulate the audience and also to mitigate some of the overly long scenes. I'm talking about masturbation, cunnilingus, varied sexual positions -- this is not for anyone who thinks sexual activity should be left to the imagination!

As in his other plays Where Do We Live, reveals an author with a genuine concern for important social and personal issues. Even though it didn't engage me as it should someone who also "lives here", I look forward to Mr. Shinn's next outing.

What Didn't Happen

Written and directed by Christopher Shinn
Cast: Luke MacFarlane (Stephen), Emily Bergl (Patricia), Aaron Stanford (Young Businessman 1/Young White Man/Young White Guy/Dave), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Young Businessman 2/Billy/Young Art Student), Burl Moseley (Shedrick), Liz Stauber (Lily), Daryl Edwards (Timothy), Aaron Yoo (Leo/Cellist) and Jacob Pitts (Tyler). J
Set Design: Rachel Hauck;
Costume Design: Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: Jill BC DuBoff
Original Music: Storm P
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes without intermission
Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St (Union Square East and Irving Place) 108 East 15th Street, 212-353-0303
. 4/21/04 to 5/30/04; opening 5/09/04.
Tuesday-Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: $50, with Student rush tickets are also available
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/14/04 performance
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