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A CurtainUp Review


"Itís beautiful here. Itís beautiful. Itís like some old picture. Like one of those pictures . . .those pictures of Yosemite?" — Jake stopping long enough in his gruesome task to reminisce about school trips to the Park that had him wishing he could stay behind and stay there leaving his old life behind so that it would be "like the new one, the next chapter or something was beginning."
Seth Numrich and Kathryn Erbe
(Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)
The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater has a reputation for producing gritty new plays. The company's latest offering is the world premiere of Yosemite by Daniel Talbott whose first full length play, Slipping, they also produced. As described in the company's press release, "it's the story of three siblings who are sent out into the snow-silent woods in the Sierra Nevada foothills to dig a hole that will be deep enough to bury a family secret. As they dig, they search for a way to escape or be rescued from their lives as the snow continues to fall and the world sinks in around them."

The good news first: Raul Abrego has created a beautifully atmospheric set. It's lit by Joel Moritz so that the artificial green and brown forest that greets the audience metamorphoses into a snowy landscape when the lights dim and the play begins. Given the Rattlesticks' nuts and bolts walk-up theater with its backstage restrooms that usually delay the starting time by at least five minutes, the sophistication of that scenery for this stage is remarkable.

Yosemite does indeed live up to the Rattlestick reputations for no-holds ba rred grittiness. While the setting would work well for an adventure story about there's nothing that even remotely close to light entertainment in this grim picture of a family that has fallen beneath the cracks.

As Jake (Seth Numrich), the oldest of the three sibling digs away at the hole which is to hold that "family secret," it becomes increasingly unlikely that these young people will be able to dig themselves out of the dark hole that their life has become since their father's death. Nor is there much mystery regarding the secret being buried. The black plastic garbage bag wrapped bundle that's on stage and in sister Ruby's (Libby Woodbriidge) arms is obviously the secret object. Its contents are pretty easy to guess at way before specifically identified in the dialogue.

As for that dialogue. . .here comes the bad news.

Remove every occurrence of "fuck" and "fucking" and the 80 rather endless minutes would probably bring this play in at under an hour. Despite lots of silent moments there's enough dialogue to establish that these are three miserably messed up adolescents, their problems courtesy of the family's downhill trajectory after their father's death and the mother's re-marriage.

The real mystery here is not what secret is being buried but why and how the mother has persuaded them to undertake the burial. (The stage directions in the script but not in the production, do give a reason she wants the kids out of the house). As much a mystery is why this play has been supported by a stunning and very professional set and a cast that includes Seth Numrich of the wonderful Broadway production of War Horse and Kathryn Erbe who may be best known to viewers as Detective Alexandre Eames of the Law & Order Criminal Intent series.

I quite like gritty plays and have no problem with dark themes and endings that aren't spelled out. But a play to be a play does need an arc and what the playwright explains in his stage directions should not be totally obscured in the staging and dialogue. Maybe director Pedro Pascal felt that Julie's (Erbe), actions prior to her appearance on stage and before her final off-stage act should be eliminated.

Numrich and Erbe do their best to bring passion and meaning to their roles. However, except for one screaming match with Jake, Erbe has been directed to, whisper. I doubt that anyone sitting much further back than my Row C seat will be able to hear her. Libby Woodbridge does well as Ruby. There's not much to be said for Noah Galvin as the younger brother Jer since he has practically nothing to say..

Here's hoping that the Rattlestick's next play, Massacre (Sing to Your Children) by Jose Rivera (April 14th to May 12th) lives up to its promise of a more satisfyingly developed plot.

Yosemite by Daniel Talbott
directed by Pedro Pascol
Cast: Kathryn Erbe (Julie), Noah Galvin (Jer), Seth Numrich (Jake), Libby Woodbridge (Ruby)
Sets: Raul Abrego
Costumes:Tristan Raines
Lighting: Joel Moritz
Sound: Janie Bullard
Properties: Andrew Diaz
Stage Manatgr: Michael Denis
Running Time: 80 minutes without intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater 224 Waverly Place - off Seventh Avenue South, between Perry & West 11th Streets
From 1/18/12; opening 1/26/12; closing 2/26/12. Wednesday - Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm and Sunday at 3pm.
Tickets are $55
Reviewed by Elyse sommer at January 25th press performance
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