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A CurtainUp Review

Steve: Sometimes I wish I was in movies.

Erin: You mean, like famous?

Steve: No. I don't know. I mean, like.. life just always seems.. better or something when it's up there on the big screen. Like you could take all this right here.. and you could put it in a movie... and all this would seem like it was really something. You know?

Lucas Papaelias and Hamish Linklater
L. Papaelias and H. Linklater
(Photo: George McLaughlin)

From the lobby of Studio Dante's 29th Street home, where this new play is being presented, you could walk three quick blocks up Eighth Avenue to Penn Station, and in an hour find yourself entrenched in a part of New Jersey well out of the shadow of New York's skyline. Or you could take your seat for Cyclone, which seeks to take you on the same ride.

Poor New Jersey. It's not enough that comedians beat the place up in joke after joke; when playwrights need to create a sense of "not here" -- of the hopeless wasteland outside of New York's invigorating gestalt -- it's off to Jersey they go. I'm not faulting playwright Ron Fitzgerald for jumping on the bandwagon. "Write what you know" is usually good advice, and on the surface at least it seems Mr. Fitzgerald (about whose background I know next to nothing) knows the places and people that are his focus.

The particular New Jersey story playwright Ron Fitzgerald has in mind deals with a quartet of rudderless 20-somethings, offset by a trio of older men who more or less paint a picture of how the younger generation might end up. It is indeed a world in which what is seen on the screen (big or small) seems larger than any life that exists in the immediate reality.

Mitch (Hamish Linklater) lives in a trailer with his girlfriend Erin (Marin Ireland), who works at a donut shop and is suffering from his inattentiveness. Mitch's father, a cop, has just been killed and Mitch doesn't really know what to do with his memories of his father, much less his ashes. (I'm intentionally leaving out some of the details because they are better seen than written about though perhaps I should add that some of them are pretty sick.) He comes in contact with four other characters who don't help him much: Bob (Lucas Papaelias), a convenience store clerk; Martin (Jeremy Davidson), his father's partner at the police department who has a high opinion of himself and lots of opinions for Mitch; Joe (Michael Cullen), a bartender whose only real interest seems to be what's happening on the TV set in the bar; and Jim (a crankily dyspeptic and seemingly forlorn older man with a dog and a lot of stories that he apparently thinks convey some answers to life's mysteries). For her part, Erin meets a skater boy, Steve (Matt Stadelmann), who seems to have a more salubrious effect.

Director Brian Mertes has assembled an impressive cast for this show, and has directed them with wit and an effective hand. All of the men present well-considered, believable characters, and especially so in the case of Hamish Linklater who plays the central character. Marin Ireland, the sole female in the piece and an actress we've admired in many other shows, seems unfortunately miscast: her intelligence runs at cross-current with the more primal emotions Erin ought to have.

Fitzgerald's greatest challenge is to overcome the dull essence of the slice of humanity he has chosen to depict. While he does a fine job of developing each character and his dialogue is at times superlative, the writing displays a power of observation but not analysis, and I came away feeling a bit cheated. The play shies away from any real insight into Mitch, with an ending that is dramatic but not especially meaningful. We are not prompted to like these people, and in the end, we can't really find much to feel except sorry for them.

Victoria Imperioli has designed a set which is flexible enough to accommodate the large number of locations in the script without being overly disruptive of the flow of the show. Tony Giovannetti's lighting design is also helpful in creating the disparate scenes and in giving effect to Mertes' inventive scene transitions.

by Ron Fitzgerald
Directed by Brian Mertes
with Michael Cullen, Jeremy Davidson, James Hendricks, Marin Ireland, Hamish Linklater, Lucas Papaelias and Matthew Stadelmann
Set and Costume Design: Victoria Imperioli
Lighting Design: Tony Giovannetti
Sound Designer: David Thomas
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes with 1 intermission
Studio Dante, 257 West 29th St (7/8 Avs)
Telephone (212) 868-4444
March 15 - April 2, 2006 -- extended to April 15, 2006
WED - SAT @8; $35
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 3/16/06 performance
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©2006  Elyse Sommer.