By Christie Perfetti Williams; Directed by Matilda Szydagis
Produced by Carnival Girls Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 5.13.23
Sargent Theatre, 314 West 54th Street
by Ed Malin on 5.7.23
Lori Funk and Ric Sechrest in The Magazine. Photo by Ric Sechrest.
BOTTOM LINE: Parents of a teenager killed in a school shooting must live with surprising everyday reminders.
Playwright and producer Christie Perfetti Williams was about to bring The Magazine to the stage in April, 2020, but the pandemic intervened. Finally, in another collaboration with director Matilda Szydagis and a talented cast, this story is now on stage at the Sargent Theatre in Midtown. Sadly, if not surprisingly, Perfetti’s dedication to the theme of survivors of gun violence is just as relevant now. This is not your run of the mill, sensational reenactment of the news. In this powerful production, we see no violence, but instead focus on persistent reminders (sometimes unexpected or inappropriate) of someone who is deeply missed.
In a quiet town in upstate New York where everyone knows everyone’s business, Maggie Hadlow (Lori Funk) and her husband James (Ric Sechrest) appear to be going through their daily routine, folding clothes, listening to music, but they are dancing around something. When will it be time to clean up their son Shep’s room? More mail has come for their son—pornographic magazines that the 17-year-old used to come home and grab from the mailman before his parents could see. Shep was recently killed by a school shooter. Someone needs to call the publisher and cancel the magazine subscription.
Maggie frequently meets with Claire (Kristen Vaughan) to remember her son. Claire is a fortune teller who is trying her best to sense the presence of Shep. Maggie also spends more and more time listening to contemporary folk music, and attends a performance by singer Max Hall (Eddie Boroevich). Gradually, we learn that Maggie and Max went to school together and that Max’s music is inspired by the death of his wife and his ensuing feelings of isolation. Can Max’s experience help Maggie with her grief?
Meanwhile, James’s attempts to cancel the Shep's porn subscription turn ironically humorous. Already, Maggie had sought to spare their late son’s reputation by telling their postman, George (C.K. Allen), that James has a perverse addition to porn, so George sent the family a Bible and a prayer card to aid James in his salvation. James now must call customer service, where he reaches Miss Olive (Arlene A. McGruder), pornographically literate but devout Christian.
While Maggie talks to Max and Claire, and James talks to Miss Olive, the couple speak little to each other. Through some beautiful dialogue and evocative direction, we only see their sadness and frustration grow. When Maggie is asked to say a few words at a town memorial for the victims, she is halted by her own tears. James finishes the speech, in a tone of mounting rage, telling the community they are complicit in the culture of gun violence. This memorial seems to bring James and Maggie to the limit of exhaustion. Where will they go from there? Do see the show and find out.
Sandra Yaklin’s sets leave plenty of space for the characters to confront their thoughts and feelings. Ben Philipp’s costumes show the things we may never get to see, like the fashion flair that a telephone account representative may be rocking at the other end of the line, and the inner sadness of a woman who is taking off Spanx after a long evening of trying to recapture lost time. Savannah-born singer Jason Bible contributes the original music that soothes Maggie. And Eliut Ortiz’s lighting design makes it possible for us to travel in time and to move in inner space.
Perhaps the only way to come to terms with the horrible loss of life from gun violence is to sit in front of human beings who are going through the stages of grieving. In only 75 minutes, Christie Perfetti Williams brings us into a story that is difficult to express in words. It stands to reason that many things the characters say may lead to a deeper level of meaning. Director Matilda Szydagis, whom you should recognize for her great sense of timing in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, finds ways for us to look between the words the characters say.
(The Magazine plays at the Sargent Theatre, 314 West 54th Street, from May 4 through May 13, 2023. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7, Saturdays at 2 and 7, and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $25. For more information visit carnivalgirlsproductions.com.)
The Magazine is by Christie Perfetti Williams. Directed by Matilda Szydagis. Scenic Design by Sandy Yaklin. Costume Design by Ben Philipp. Lighting Design by Eliut Ortiz. Sound Design by Jeanne Travis. Original Music by Jason Bible. Production Stage Manager is Sheby Meek.
The cast is C.K. Allen, Eddie Boroevich, Lori Funk, Arlene A. McGruder, Ric Sechrest, Kristen Vaughan.