by David Lally · May 19, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #94 David Lally looks at Zurich, New York: Repast | Rocks | When You Go Zurich, New York is a cycle of three new plays by three playwrights by Essential Theatre Group, now playing at The Tank Theatre through May 31st: Repast by Lindsay Joy, Rocks by Charlotte Miller and When You Go by Alex Riad. Each play takes place on the same day on a dock in Zurich, a name that conjures up some place exotic but in this case, a fictional lakeside town in upstate New York. And it’s a small town, invaded yearly every summer by tourists. The awareness of this fact drives the characters in the three plays. All of them in some way feel trapped, or are trapped by the confines of what Zurich represents. As one character points out in When You Go, the town’s slogan, “Zurich is a place to stay.” was corrected when someone spray-painted out the “…to stay.” part.
In Repast, the curtain opener, Celia and Frank have come back home for their father’s funeral. They are both different people from the ones who grew up in Zurich and both are having trouble getting through the day and trying to be there for their mother. Frank copes by wandering down to the dock to take a dip in the lake and smoke some weed. Celia, the more uptight of the two, tries to hold herself together but is constantly coerced by her brother to kick back, relax and take a swim. Both have secrets but only Frank wants his to come out. As the two characters discuss their lives since they’ve left Zurich and what it means to be back, the two begin to form an understanding of each other. Neil Tyrone Pritchard and Gillian Glasco have such a great rapport with each other, and the dialogue is funny and naturalistic and gets big laughs without either character cracking a joke. This was a pleasant piece I would love to see developed further.
Rocks introduces two members of the notably strange Emmons clan: Emmet and Emmi (played by Chris Bellant and Sevrin Anne Mason). Desperately trying to escape their day-to-day boring existence, they are collecting rocks to open a souvenir rock shop. It isn’t a totally crazy idea as Zurich is a former quarry town. But the strangeness of these two and their relationship to each other doesn’t give one comfort. Into their existence comes an innocent sunbather (Jelena Stupljanin), a foreigner escaping the city, hung-over, and just wanting to soak up the sun. As the play went from absurd to more realistic, I found I liked it better. As Claire, the sunbather, and Emmi talk and become closer, the show became more interesting to me, but then the reality of the piece seemed to morph back into absurdity, and it became hard to care about the characters and the relationships that were being built. At times I felt that Emmet and Emmi were two characters on a Saturday Night Live skit, which is a shame because it diluted some important issues that the playwright was trying to convey, specifically about the meaning of beauty and the feelings of living in a small town in limbo because nothing ever happens.
When You Go ends the day when Josh, Mike, Becca and Clark get together for one last night before Clark leaves for New York City. This play was the most developed of the three and could easily be expanded. Stellar work from the four cast members: Kate Lydic as Becca and Brian Reisman as Clark both are terrific but special mention must go to Timothy Weinert, who nails Mike, the small town douchebag, and Evan Hall as the conflicted and angry Josh, whose best friend is leaving him behind. They drink, they fight, and slowly the real issues come to the surface, in a very subtle and naturalistic way, as in Repast.
Anyone who has grown up in a small town or gone back will relate to the many issues brought up in all three plays. Credit must go to Essential Theatre Group whose mission is to bring “highly collaborative and thought-provoking storytelling to adventurous audiences.” Many times an evening of one-acts involve plays that have nothing to do with each other but by setting all three plays in one town, on the same day, and apparently all sharing the same weed dealer, a guy aptly named Toast, with references to the funeral, the evening feels cohesive, even with three separate directors. James Fauvell (Repast), Michael Padden (Rocks) and Andrew Justin Smith (When You Go) must be commended for making it seem as if all three plays were directed by the same individual.
It’s interesting to note in the program that Rocks takes place in the morning, Repast later in the day and When You Go in the evening. Why the plays were not presented in this order on stage was puzzling as it would have seemed natural to place Rocks first because the absurdity is too jarring when sandwiched in between two more naturalistic plays. Puzzling thoughts aside, though, Zurich, New York is an excellent way to kick off your summer play going experience.