by Ben Prayz · June 11, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #111 Ben Prayz looks at Carnival Kids playing at TBG Theatre “It’s nice to see you affected. By something.” Observes the vaguely professional Marisa (Laura Ramadei) about her former platonic sort-of boyfriend Mark (Jake Choi), in an early scene of Carnival Kids, a new play by Lucas Kavner which opens June 9 at The Barrow Group. That something is the arrival of Jake’s adopted father, Dale (Randall Newsome). A former keyboardist in a rock band, Dale has hit hard times and comes to New York City to live with his son. Completing this domestic set-up is Mark’s roommate, the eccentric, app-inventing, Gameboy playing, aspiring songwriter and half-millionaire, Eckland (Max Jenkins). Indeed, it will not just be Mark, affected by Dale’s arrival, but Eckland, ambiguous illegal immigrant, Kalina (Danelle Eliav), and, indirectly, Marisa herself. I am not quite as sure about the playgoers.
To be certain, Kavner has crafted an interesting story with engaging characters and witty dialogue. In this production, Carnival Kids is performed without an intermission in fifteen, fairly even in length, easy to watch, scenes. (The press kit included a full copy of the script which is written with a two act structure). The extremely fluid staging and smooth transitions composed by director Stephen Brackett add to the congenial nature of the production. As do the appealing performances by each member of the company. The one element here that works against this production is the set design. As the theatre is a black box which can be utilized in many different configurations, they chose to create the playing area on a long rectangular space about six feet deep by thirty feet long. I was seated house right in seats provided by management ostensibly because they were deemed as having the best vantage points. Most unfortunately the sightlines for any scenes on stage right (and there were many important ones) were either completely or partially blocked.
The crux of the plot involves Mark’s obvious reticence about, and blatant hostility towards, his father’s presence. However, as distant as Mark is from Dale (solidly played, though without the Texan accent referred to by Kalina), Eckland and Kalina become closer to him. Eckland (wonderfully charismatic) is drawn to Dale’s rock star background, inviting him to jointly create music and provoking him to marry for money. Kalina, (touching and sympathetic) who desperately needs a green card, is drawn to Dale at first by necessity and then by sincerity.
Eventually, Dale’s presence pushes Mark (enigmatic and persuasive) to live with Marisa (grounded and funny) in a futile attempt to (re) kindle their romantic past. Ultimately there is a well-played “final showdown” between father and son – one we know is coming from the first scene when Dale arrives. It is to Kavner’s credit that he keeps the predictability of the impending confrontation at bay. However, there is a lack of information about Mark’s mother and how Dale’s infidelities and drinking impacted her – and therefore Mark – which makes Mark’s resentment seem one dimensional. This left a distance between Mark and I which diminished the impact of the final confrontation leaving me ultimately unaffected. Overall though, Carnival Kids, like a carnival itself, is enjoyable and fun to be at.