Eight Characters in Search of a Book
From My Seat in the House by Mari Lyn Henry
In the surreal world of ValueVille, men and women wait for ‘corporate,’ aka the higher power, to free them from the endless domination of a ruthless control freak. They bicker, banter, are overly critical of each other and lack empathy, compassion or forgiveness at the ValueVille store. The game changer occurs when Eddie, an MFA from NYU (earnestly played by David Spadora) appears for a temporary summer job. In this twilight zone atmosphere, he reconnects with Meg (Emily Koch) a former girlfriend, rebels against Don (Christopher Sutton–a full throttle villain with a talent for one liners), who has a sweet spot for her, awakens the others to take a stand and send him into exile. In the interim, Ed’s long deceased Grandma Ruth (Patti Allison) enters through locked doors to explain why she abandoned him and left him with neighbors, works for ‘human’ resources and lifts the mundane plot with a plaintive interpretation of the lovely ballad “All For You.”
These moments are rare in a confusing script that is weighted down with too much content and not enough substance; characters who are annoying caricatures, and too many endings. The through line is the romantic reawakening between the self-absorbed Ed and his insecure former flame Meg. But that is interrupted with two mask-wearing silent figures who attack characters, dragging them off stage, to keep them in line.
There is no doubt that Rowen Casey is a talented composer and lyricist. A showstopping highlight is when the superbly talented NaTasha Yvette Williams renders “Live Like You Dream” with passionate and soulful exuberance. But I would highly recommend that “The Shit Song” be eliminated with its sound effects. Casey’s book needs a collaborator or a dramaturge. In spite of its flaws, the cast, which also includes Karl Josef Co, Willie Dee, Stephanie Fittro and Lara Hughes, is committed to the journey and are guided by the strong hand of Donna Lynne Champlin in her directorial debut. She has created visual images in freeze action and tableau, but she is faced with the challenges of making ‘stuff’ happen that isn’t there.
Costumes are hit or miss. Special kudos to Grandma Ruth’s ensemble. Jeffry Denman’s choreography suits the actions to the words. Ryan Cantwell’s music direction, Patrick Rizzotti, Cory Pattak’s lighting are remarkable.
New York Musical Theatre Festival and Casey Creative Co. PTC Performance Space, Pearl Theatre, Closing July 13, 8PM