by PJ Grisar · February 2, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #45: PJ Grisar looks at Adult now playing at Abrons Art Center Adult, playwright Christina Masciotti’s sweet new two-hander playing through February 15th at the Abrons Art Center, features a father and daughter who spar, spat and struggle to earn the title. 18-year-old Tara disaffected with the jocks and drones of her chosen college spends her first winter break with estranged dad Stanley in his row-house-turned gun shop in pastoral Reading, PA--she says she’s there for the woods, but of course there’s a boy. If Tara’s in transition, Stanley, 49 years her senior, is far from settled himself. Reeling from a robbery he’s taken out a loan to build a firing range out back. Both are ready for a change and eager for common ground, but their differences and the baggage of the past win out despite their best efforts and due in no small part to some strong-willed similarities. They know what’s best for the other and neither wants to listen and we spend a good part of the brisk, 85 minute run-time watching them run away from some unpleasant advice.
Through all this talk of college transfers and business remodeling Masciotti keeps a deft grip on specificity, resisting the easy out of broad, generational gaps. Stanley may be less than PC or technologically illiterate where his daughter is the “Me-Generation” model of sensitive and, at times self-centered but as with 2010’s acclaimed Vision Disturbance, the playwright’s masterstrokes are in fine tip. Everything from the patter of the dialogue with its written-in misuse of words, the way Tara ties her shoes and her fussy stomach come from a place of character and world building . Even the off-stage characters of Tara’s mom and her boyfriend of nine months—introduced effectively via phone calls—are well-realized and have their own dynamics with the onstage Jimmie James and the Betsy Hogg. One of my favorite little relationship insights is the street smart Stanley’s deferring to his ex-wife’s knowledge of fabric softener and her later counter question about the servicing of her car.
Masciotti’s home town of Reading—voted one of the “Top Ten Worst Places to Live”-- is also alive in the details with the sound designer Ben Williams’ pulse of Latin music, a symptom of Stanley’s feared “Ethnic Invasion” from New York (where Stanley himself is from); the collapsed UPS box and downed ceiling tiles in Stephen Dobay’s two-tier timber-lined set; and Driscoll Otto’s practical light on the display case leaving us in a world that breathes. The actors play their range from top to the bottom as Jimmie James’ Stanley goes from moments of great pathos to jocular jibe-making while Betsy Hogg imbues her opinionated millennial with vulnerability and backbone. With simple staging by director and New Group regular, Ian Morgan the intimate story about a remote relationship gone local feels immediate and real. True to Chekhov and the posted warnings on the theater door there are gunshots in this performance. This non-sensational show is studded with set dressing ammunition, but the loaded (no pun intended) location plays out largely as incidental with no real politics to push--a commendable feat. The real firepower is in the quiet moments, where father and daughter issue challenges to commit to their futures and to one another.