By Frank Tangredi; Directed by Hazen Cuyler
Produced by The Greenhouse Ensemble
Off Broadway, Short Plays
Ran through 3.25.18
The Franciscan Community Center, 214 West 97th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 3.27.18
Sean Walsh in Dads, Dates, and Other Disturbances. Photo by Sean McCoy.
BOTTOM LINE: 17 actors are featured in this evening of short plays by Frank Tangredi.
The stated mission of The Greenhouse Ensemble is to cultivate “a positive, judgment-free environment where artists of many disciplines create fully-realized work.” That may be, but they definitely succeed in putting actors to work. In Dads, Dates, and Other Disturbances an ensemble of 17 actors and one playwright stay quite busy as they present this collection of 10 short pieces by Frank Tangredi. Six are performed live; the other four are video projections that keep us occupied while the ensemble prepares the space for the next performance.
The six live plays are all unified in a dark and perverse tone; not one has a lighthearted frivolous air. Tangredi uses each piece to challenge the audience and explore some of mankind’s more disturbing impulses and behaviors.
The line-up is kicked off by Early, in which Margaret (Mar Riehl) pays her middle-aged brother-in-law Tom (Dan Capalbo) a visit in the wee hours of the morning to convince him that he needs to start dating again after losing his wife a year before. Margaret has just the woman for him, but her spirits are dampened when she learns that Tom has already moved on to Grace (Catherine Goodman), a younger woman who beckons Tom back to bed.
In Peck, Dale (Sean Walsh) invites his employee Mike (Chris Curtland) into his office for a performance review. We quickly learn that these two men go way back to childhood when Mike forced his future employer to perform a naked tap dance number in the snow. Now that Dale is holding all of the cards, he seems intent on exacting revenge.
Petey Bear presents perhaps the biggest acting challenge of the evening as it requires a grown adult to play the part of Baby Petey (Keegan McDonald). McDonald lays on his back for much of the play with his bare feet extending into the air. Though the piece requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, McDonald triumphs in capturing the vulnerable and clueless essence of an infant. The play follows Jeff (Sean McCoy), a teenage father, who rises to the challenge of being a dad despite the fact that he has not yet grown up himself. When his friend Gregg (Blaine Mizer) pays a visit, Jeff is persuaded to misbehave at the peril of his son.
In Dedication, a historian (Charles Black) confronts his academic mentor Dexter (Tom Crouch) after he uncovers a photograph of a lynching in which Dexter’s father is seen holding the rope.
One of the most compelling pieces in the line-up is The Unspeakable Passion of Mitch Devoe, in which Mitch (Conor Andrew Hall) returns home to confess to his gay brother Scott (Joey Rotter) that he plans on marrying a staunch Republican. Hall and Rotter spar, struggle, and scuffle with great passion, which makes the scene irresistible and demands the audience’s empathy.
The program concludes with Extracurricular, in which a 21-year-old male escort (Keegan McDonald) prepares to consummate his commission with Julia (Celine Havard), a lonely, middle-aged woman who may even be a virgin. As the young man sobers up to what he is about to do, Julia has second thoughts about letting him go through with it.
I must confess that the live performances are much easier to engage with than the videos. For starters, the sound quality of the videos is not ideal, and they are projected on a wall perpendicular to the stage. I had to turn my head as far as my neck would allow in order to see; enjoying these videos required persevering through great discomfort. I’m not sure Game of Thrones could triumph under such conditions.
Director Hazen Cuyler directs all the pieces with heart and care. I was perplexed, however, by his choice to include four additional flats in every scene, each carried on and held by an actor for the duration of the scene. Perhaps Cuyler was trying to create focus by obscuring superfluous elements of the unit set. Unfortunately, the presence of four actors standing in as a de facto stage crew is distracting, especially when they can be seen watching through the gaps. This is one element that Cuyler could have done without.
Tangredi’s work is extremely original and not at all familiar. But because every piece is extremely serious, the program screams out for an innocuous premise and some lighthearted jokes. If you’re looking for comic relief you’ll have to find it elsewhere —Dads, Dates, and Other Disturbances is by far the heaviest collection of short plays that I’ve ever seen.
(Dads, Dates, and Other Disturbances played at the Franciscan Community Center, 214 West 97th Street, from March 15 through 25, 2018. The running time was 2 hours 40 minutes with an intermission. Performances were Thursdays through Saturdays at 8; Sundays at 3. Tickets were $15, $20 at the door. For more information visit greenhouseensemble.com.)
Dads, Dates, and Other Disturbances is by Frank Tangredi. Directed by Hazen Cuyler. Set Design by Leon Joosen.
The cast is Reamma Armellino, Gail Merzer Behrens, Charles Black, Dan Capalbo, Chris Curtland, Tom Crouch, Catherine Goodman, Philip O'Gorman, Conor Andrew Hall, Celine Frances Havard, Seah McCoy, Keegan McDonald, Blaine Mizer, Mar Riehl, Joey Rotter, Spencer Gold, and Sean Walsh.