By Pat D. Robinson; Directed by Nathaniel P. Claridad
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.27.15
VENUE #1: Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Artem Yatsunov on 8.19.15
Nick Winthrop Lawson in July House. Photo by Amy Eingold.
BOTTOM LINE: Rich kids at a "rager" jot down their final farewells to each other for a gag, in this deconstructed play-within-a-play character study of youth adrift in an uncaring world.
At the heart of the sorrowful dark comedy July House is a serious portrayal of young people grieving for a lost connection with their world. Our hero is the adderall-popping, wine-guzzling prep, Guthrie Winthrop, captured with unbridled vulnerability and vehement self-destruction by the larger-than-life Nick W. Lawson. Still reeling from the loss of his mother, drowned at sea six years prior, ‘Gut’ Thompson invites his four wine-varnished friends to an impromptu game of writing death letters, which are to be kept in secret and read only upon their, well, death. Eventually, as these secret letters are revealed, they become a chronology of “Gut” Thompson’s descent into self-imposed isolation.
Although the play starts out as the group’s "last hurrah," the story quickly focuses on Guthrie alone. I personally loved that the play narrowed from an ensemble piece into a singular character study. It may put some people off, especially those who prefer a more balanced narrative, but I dug this reprieve from the standard "well-made play" structure. Hats off to playwright Pat D. Robinson's courage in letting his script evolve. Without giving anything away, the play keeps cooking right on through to the very end.
In some of director Nathaniel P. Claridad’s most evocative and mature moments of staging, we get to witness Gut experience each friend's farewell letters as if in déjà vu. The effective cast of Kate Lydic, Jay Reed, Jack Utrata, and Josh Tobin all contribute a rich emotional palette for these posthumous last rites.
Everyone is given a chance to shine, but I did find Louisa’s character underdeveloped. Without Jay Reed’s big-hearted stage presence, full of intoxicated and giggling bombshell-ness, the character would have all but disappeared. Kate Lydic, as Sandy, is somber and severe, and plays close to the chest showing wonderful range. Unfortunately without Lydic’s raw performance, Sandy could have easily devolved into “the nag,” a trope of underdeveloped female characters often seen in the work of young male writers.
This is a play with a lot on its mind, with a cast and a creative team whose heart-aching honesty is present in every moment. Their efforts deserve your applause, attention, and most of all—your attendance.
(July House plays at VENUE #1: Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 27, 2015. Performances are Sat 8/15 at 4:30; Tue 8/18 at 9:15; Fri 8/21 at 9:30; Mon 8/24 at 7; and Thu 8/27 at 4:30. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org.)