Joe Casey as a soft-core porn filmmaker and Becca Fox (behind) as his niece in In "Allen Wilder 2.0," written and directed by Matt Morillo, presented by Theater for the New City January 7 to 31, 2016. Photo by Farnaz Taherimotlagh.





Three characters clash and come out changed for the better.


by Joel Benjamin


Matt Morillo’s Allen Wilder 2.0 is a tale of redemption that treads lightly, even pleasantly, on its characters’ sensibilities: no great revelations, no mea culpas and definitely no pulling hair out. The three characters are intimately involved and have reason to dislike or avoid each other, but manage to come to a pleasant détente by the fade out.


Michael (Joe Casey), forty or so years old and in pretty good shape, despite a life of pleasant debauchery, has returned to his Long Island hometown to clear up some hazy issues. As the play opens, he’s doing a sexual waltz with Donna (Steph Van Vlack), a slightly frumpy, but lovely lady, ten years his senior who, bizarrely, was his babysitter thirty or so years ago right in that Long Island town. After much raking over old times and reasons both for and against coupling, they do.


The house the two have invaded for a tryst, seemingly abandoned, played a part in Michael’s past. They are embarrassingly discovered by Kayla (Becca Fox), Michael’s niece, a beautiful young biracial woman. It seems Michael’s sister married a black man which caused a great deal of turmoil in the family, particularly with Michael, his sister’s father who, it seems, was a bigot. Kayla is scarred by the prejudices of her grandfather and also doesn’t think too highly of her eccentric, high-living West Coast uncle whom she considers a total mess-up. Kayla actually knows Donna, a fixture in the little town, which causes even more embarrassment and tension.


Kayla has moved into the house, which is in poor shape and loaded with boxes of Michael’s life detritus which he is instructed, in no uncertain terms, to remove. The process of going through his stuff enlightens Michael in strange ways. In fact Mr. Morillo, who also directed his play with a fine feeling of the rhythms of seduction and the intricacies of airing a family’s dirty laundry, turned what might have been a dreary, clichéd trio into an intriguing, if sometimes exhausting, character study.


Allen Wilder 2.0—the title is a reference to Michael’s nom de plume as a soft core porn filmmaker—takes these three characters through many changes, most of which will take their lives in better directions. Donna finds a new freedom; Michael understands why he has done some of the awful things he’s done; and Kayla re-evaluates her relationships, particularly with her mom.


All three actors are fine, occasionally exposing more than their emotions and inner thoughts. Mr. Casey captures the louche Michael, while Ms. Van Vlack never lets the insecure Donna descend into self-loathing. Ms. Fox, has a nervous quality that works to communicate her rude façade, yet never loses sight of her softer inner feelings.


The set design by Mark Marcante captures the shabby fate of an unloved piece of property while Amith A. Chandrashaker’s lighting made the space somehow exotic and seductive.


Allen Wilder 2.0. Through January 31 at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue, between East 9th and 10th Streets). For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit For more information, visit . Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission.


Photos by Farnaz Taherimotlagh