note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
by Richard Greenberg
Directed by H. Alex El-Ali
Lighting Design by Caroline Kaneshiro
Ellen.............Felice H. Yeh
Babylon Productions' new Theatre7 Project chose a complicated, serious, witty play as their first production. While Richard Greenberg's "Eastern Standard" looked under-rehearsed at opening, the choices made by H. Alex El-Ali their director and his actors make good use of their limited time and resources. The company strives "to enhance theater's relevance by exploiting the medium's advantage over film: its ability to respond quickly to social events."
The group spent their resources exploring the deeper elements in a play with a glittering surface. Four of the characters are young, upwardly mobile, and unhappy about their successes. Jim Martin plays a 30-year-old architect who builds good buildings for bad purposes. Juliet Gowing is a beautiful investment analyst whose boss/lover may try to avoid indictment by blaming everything on her. Jason Lambert battles to get black characters into his television scripts, but faces the consequences of his gay life-style. Barlow Adamson's jaded, cynical artist is still looking for the ultimate gay partner.
All four of these major characters chafe under their surface success and attempt to help one another, and the company tackles their problems sincerely and head-on. However, they are also New Yorkers, so they speak a sort of New York Glib which is part breezy phrasing, part arrogant self-deprecation, part with-it hip. It's this glitzy surface style that could have used another two weeks of running lines to perfect.
The playwright has called these yumpies' bluff about a yearning for socially significant work by adding two lower-class characters --- Felice H. Yeh plays a waitress/actress and Wendy Sutton a homeless bag-lady invited to spend time schmoozing with the wealthy at a Fire Island summer place. Each expects the benevolence to become permanent, but personal problems overwhelm the dream of social solidarity, and at bottom it's the yumpies' play.
The characters here who really change are the architect and the analyst, and of the two Juliet Gowing is best at showing these changes as internal. Again, given more time everyone involved with this production could build on their characters and their interactions. Doubtless committing the play to an audience will add to this process.
Theatre7 is only one of a host of small groups and companies doing intimate small-budget shows. They have made a good beginning. Their commitment to socially relevant theater is refreshing, and deserves a wider audience.