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A CurtainUp Review

Are We There Yet?
By Les Gutman

No, but you can see there from here, and that's a pretty significant accomplishment.

If a playwright has the temerity to put a question like that atop his world premiere play, he deserves an answer. Are We There Yet? may not reach theatrical Valhalla, but it's a crisp, thoughtful, entertaining play. It provides a lot to chew on, but doesn't bite off more than it can chew.

Are We There Yet? is Amanda's (Karin Sibrava) story. She's a 32-year old New Yorker living in Chelsea. She has a job in television; it's not as glamorous as it seems. She had a cute boyfriend, Felix (Nicholas Rohlfing); he got drunk at a party and fooled around; she dumped him. Her mother never stops giving her advice; Amanda doesn't return her phone calls. Not counting the overabundance of cigarettes she smokes, the only constant in her life is her gay friend, Moss (Peter J. Crosby), who has his own similar existence.

The New York thirty-something lifestyle markers are well-represented here: Donna Karan and Prada, shopping sprees in the Bloomingdales shoe department; supposedly single guys with significant others; "secret" little restaurants on Cornelia Street in the West Village; ice cream at Serendipity. The play is also replete with New York stereotypes: the Indian clerk at the deli, the Jewish mother, the outer-borough chick, the speechless therapist and so on. Wingfield handles all of this with charm and a delicate wackiness.

But there is a twist. Amanda has just learned she has breast cancer. Her narrative, interwoven with cinematic-style flashback scenes, is the thrust of the play. Wingfield has Amanda confront the dramatic choices head-on, and in them sheds light on her real choices, or lack thereof. One path would of course be that taken in this year's Pulitzer Prize winner, Wit, in which the demise of the terminally ill central character is witnessed. Thankfully, Amanda is not at this stage. Another route, as Amanda explains, would be the joyful fantasy in which the central character appears at play's end the victor, the cancer having been cured. But, as Amanda's oncologist, Dr. Heather (Kim Reinle), cautions, that's not a destination a cancer patient can ever reach. Are we there yet? You can't get there from here.
So what we see, and quite well, is Amanda coping: accepting and treating her condition, gaining strength by rejecting the things that make her weak, seeking to define and engineer the support of a surrogate "family." She and Moss decide to move to Nantucket. When the inevitable happens (that is, everyone they know descends on their beach house for the weekend), nerves flare, jealousies manifest and we see vividly, as Amanda learns, the salutary effects of just being left alone. Behind this story, Wingfield has done a beautiful job of subtly lacing a terrific running joke as well as several small but apt character (in both senses of the word) portraits.

James Knopf, who is the founder and Artistic Director of New Voices, directs efficiently and in fast pace. He allows the secondary characters -- there are fourteen of them, performed by four actors -- to entertain to the limits of their nature, while reining in the two leads considerably.  Sibrava is quite believable as a young children's TV producer: career frustration mixed with a bit of I-exist-in-New York determination. But there's also a bit of kindergarten teacher in her, and a healthy appreciation of "a little childhood innocence". What's missing, surprisingly, is any physical sense that she is sick. It's as of they didn't wish to burden us with the after effects of chemotherapy and radiation. This undercuts her reactions to being around people, and especially to the many long-lost "friends" who suddenly materialize to tell her what to do

Crosby is very engaging as Moss, a quietly charming and good friend who is nonetheless not above a bit of pettiness himself. All temptation to have Moss compete with the other characters for exuberance are wisely avoided, and a nicely drawn picture results.

The other cast members do a fine job of representing the other characters, each pretty much of a type. Nicholas Rohlfing gets to play both Felix and the other guy Amanda sleeps with; Michael Anderson, on the other hand, is each of Moss's dates/lovers. Perhaps there's a message there about what attracts them to a person; in any event, it works fine. The female roles are broken down pretty much by age. Jane Ross plays the more mature roles, including a very memorable bit --one of the show's funniest -- as Amanda's decidedly unforthcoming therapist. She then shifts gears completely as her overly forthcoming mother. Kim Reinle portrays all of the younger female characters -- five of them -- with sharp definition.

The mission of New Voices Theatre Ensemble includes producing work of emerging playwrights and, in particular, engaging provocative contemporary concerns. Their last production, When the Bough Breaks (review linked below), confronted such matters with a vengeance. This production treads in much the same water but the waves have calmed considerably. Although it has a lightweight feel, and certainly doesn't beat any point in forcefully, it succeeds in relating a very personal story with meaning.

CurtainUp's review of Wit, in the Berkshires, in New York
CurtainUp's review of When the Bough Breaks
by Garth Wingfield 
Directed by James Knopf 
with Michael Anderson, Peter J. Crosby, Kim Reinle, Nicholas Rohlfing, Jane Ross and Karin Sibrava 
Set Design: Carlos Doria 
Costume Design: Sidney Fortner 
Lighting Design: David Alan Comstock 
Sound: David Pinkard 
A New Voices Theatre Ensemble Production 
Synchronicity Space, 55 Mercer Street (Broome/Grand) (212) 539 - 4525 
Time: 90 minutes without intermission 
opened April 27, 1999 closes May 9 
Seen April 27, 1999 and reviewed by Les Gutman April 28, 1999

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