by P.J. Grisar · October 14, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #10: P.J. Grisar looks at Just Right Just Now playing at Theater For the New City Lesser America’s Just Right Just Now, a collection of six short plays by playwrights Clare Baron, Eric Dufault, Anna Kerigan, Lauren Morelli, Marco Ramirez and Brian Watkins, playing through October 27th is what all such showcases should be: an experience not unlike eating a whole Whitman’s sampler. The flavors are all on display, ranging from piquantly poignant, to zestily off beat, to the dark espresso truffle of metaphysical musings. The tastes complement, and are best taken in all at once—unlike a Whitman’s I suppose, because that would cause quite the stomach ache. Disclaimer: Just Right Just Now will not give you a stomach ache but does offer pathos and a unique brand of humanism that resists the easy reduction of these characters to stock and shtick. No mean feat.
The plays, like the chocolate (last bit of that metaphor, I swear) live in their own sort of box. Scenic Designer Edward T. Morris’s stripped-down basement replete with exposed piping, support beams and insulation-wrapped panels, is the communal stage and serve as the bowels of a college dormitory, a makeshift funeral home, a level of a zombie survival game and more.
I’ll try to class these works in thematic pairs before running order, though there are certainly overlap and parallels in almost all of the plays on the bill. Anna Kerigan’s Twink presents a nuanced character study of two old friends, their divergent life paths and the hapless college freshman caught via rendezvous in the middle, has its companion piece in Clare Barron’s patient, well-drawn two hander Chicken Butt which delves into sexual history and body image and features another would-be tryst that stops just short of consummation—also a tricycle.
Eric Dufault’s affecting momento mori All the Pretty Creatures in Heaven and Earth, about a body’s disembodied journeys, her mortician beautician and the timid necrophiliac who loves her is met blow-for-eschatological blow by Lauren Morelli’s alternately sweet and charming Roach and Rat. Morelli’s play tracks a rat, set to drink her hemlock (in the form of a lethal dose of D-Con) when a smitten roach intercedes and takes the hit himself. Both pieces render a great deal of sympathy and tenderness toward subjects that are typically presented as repellent.
Morelli and Dufault’s are, like the first two plays, also about botched intimacy or failures to connect on a desired level. Most of these characters do connect, however in a deeper, bittersweet and far-more-needed level of understanding --call it a “zeitgeist-y thing.” Marco Ramirez would, and does re: zombie culture, in his hilarious offering Basement Level. Ramirez conjures a father consumed by a video game, shirking his parental duties to play through a particularly tough level (the actors appear on stage as haltingly awkward digital avatars armed-to-the-last polygon). His wife feels his obsession is more than partly responsible for their child’s acting out by biting a playmate. (on a side note, this one reminded me of how I was missing Walking Dead and its own, far more awful parental negligence coming to a head).
Also bringing the spooks out of the near-darkness of Eric Southern and Barbara Samuels’ lighting (previously and expertly naturalistic to match the naked hanging practical bulbs) and sound designer Janie Bullard’s eerie intermittent drips of the pipes and rumbles of the boiler is Brian Walkins’s Study That House. The more-or-less monologue keeps us guessing as a man gives an account of a spectral barking coming from his locked basement to a stranger’s trained, and ominous flashlight beam. This piece, like all the others, benefits inestimably from the talents I have until now neglected. The amazingly versatile ensemble of Jon Bass, Eric Clem, Alex Herrald, Laura Ramadei, Lauren Blumenfeld and Shayna Small imbue all their characters with specificity and humanity (even the animals) and under the expert and eclectic direction of Peter James Cook and Stella Powell-Jones they elevate the already bullet-proof material and give them each heart above sentiment.
In broad strokes this collection is about inertia, grief, mortality, personal demons, intimacy and the give-and-take in love and family. All the plays are refreshingly un-cynical, well crafted and are placed and paced perfectly to feel cohesive and individually and holistically satisfying pallet--not unlike that box of chocolates. These plays are not to be missed and the artists featured in them are definitely ones to look out for in the future.