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A CurtainUp Review

by Les Gutman
We need to do something here
so we can get this thing done right.


Johanna Day, Rob Sedgwick and Peter Jay Fernandez
J. Day, R. Sedgwick and P. Fernandez
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
If your definition of theatrical bliss includes watching uniformly fine performances, Rattlestick's production of Ben Bettenbender's new play will not disappoint you. We've seen and enjoyed Johanna Day numerous times (including in the original company of Proof on Broadway and, more recently, in Helen at the Public Theater); ditto for Rob Sedgwick (who has been something of a regular in Rattlestick productions and was also a standout in the Roundabout's Major Barbara); and Peter Jay Hernandez also has a long list of substantial credits (although he really first registered for me in the recent Thunder Knocking on the Door). Together, they are most impressive, and there's a decent argument this is Ms. Day's best performance yet.

Bettenbender has written a most interesting and darkly funny play for them, filled with twists and turns. Jo-Lynne (Day) is understandably distraught: a neighbor, Curtis (Fernandez), killed her husband in a fight, the grand jury declined to indict the killer and she wants "justice". For which she turns (for invalid reasons that are pretty damn funny) to Chick (Sedgwick), a seemingly low-life gas station attendant who is a lot more complex than one might imagine from first impressions. After much dancing around the subject, the two reach an agreement and a plan is hatched -- he'll do the deed for $2300, all the money she has; she wants to drop by the man's house for a quick viewing afterwards.

As Randall Parson's ample and apt set moves from the gas station to a home setting, the second scene opens predictably (Chick finagles his way into Curtis's house). But it will unfold not at all as anticipated. For starters, Chick won't just waste Curtis; he wants Curtis to justify the execution first. And in his paradigm, that requires that Curtis offer up a reason that he should live. What follows is quite a chess match between the excitably earnest Chick and the cool-as-a-cucumber Curtis. I won't dwell further on the details, but suffice it to say much is learned about both men and Jo-Lynne as well.

Johanna Day's portrayal of Jo-Lynne is remarkable for its ability to combine anxiety, desperation, sadness and, for lack of a better term, wackiness of circumstance and remain believable. At first, Rob Sedgwick seems to be developing Chick in only two dimensions but we quickly figure out it is a set-up. Chick may not be all that well grounded, and it could be he's taken one too many hits on the bong, but when we find out where he's heading, and the path he takes to get there, it intensifies the effect. Peter Jay Fernandez, on the other hand, is more of an enigma: an ice cold veneer that seemingly blinks for no man. It's an astonishing ensemble.

Bettenbender has found an intriguing subject to write about, and fills it with nuances, nooks and crannies. There's only one problem with his play: the second scene does indeed remind one of a chess match. That means its long, and slow. And when Chick says to Curtis, "I think I'm going to have to impose a time limit." it sounds like a very good idea.

by Ben Bettenbender
Directed by Julia Gibson
with Johanna Day, Peter Jay Fernandez and Rob Sedgwick Set Design: Randall Parsons
Lighting Design: Josh Epstein
Costume Design: Amy Clark
Original Music and Sound design: Robert Kaplowitz
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Rattlestick Theater, 224 Waverly Place (just west of 7th AV, between Perry and 11th STS)
Telephone: (212) 206-1515
Rattlestick Website:
WED - MON @8; $37.50
Opening November 17, 2002, limited engagement with closing date not announced
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 11/15/02 performance

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