by Richard Hinojosa · August 26, 2015
Gary Ray, Mike Amato | Tiffany Lewis
Family dynamics are often more complex than the human genome. But, sharing the same genetic material does not mean we will share the same thoughts and feelings. We may speak to each other in a conciliatory code created to keep the peace, but what happens when this code breaks down? Playwright Mike Amato explores what happens in this hilarious new comedy.
We open on the Edgett’s living room where father Robert is frantically preparing a birthday party for their estranged son Marty while mother Barbara drinks from a bottle of bourbon hidden under the couch. Marty is so estranged from his parents that for the past 15 years they thought he was dead. He arrives with his surprise fiancée, Leslie, an older, successful businesswoman who comes across as dominating and callous. Their reunion is rather cold and all Marty wants to do once he’s arrived is leave. Barbara is unwilling to allow her baby boy be taken from her again and takes out her frustrations on Leslie. Robert, who is a brilliant scientist, has a big surprise for Marty but he can’t seem to bring himself to reveal it. The surprise is eventually let out of the bag (or in this case, out of the shoebox) and that triggers an avalanche of revelations that push the family bonds to the breaking point.
Amato’s script is quite brilliant. His dialogue is crisp and smart. His plot has numerous twists and turns, many of which border on the absurd. The play reminded me of the early, more experimental work of Sam Shepard with a little Edward Albee mixed in. His brand of comedy is dark and brooding and yet the show is filled with belly laughs from the outrageous situations the playwright delivers. Amato really packs a lot of symbolism and analogy into his script. There is, for example, a very intriguing creation myth told that has to do with the universe spiraling out of an egg and Amato uses this story as foreshadowing to one of the play’s major plot twists. Amato does tend to spell out his analogies for the audience rather than allow them to discover them on their own. Still, their edifying effect remains the same and they help the story unfold in a truly spellbinding manner. Director Andrea Andresakis has an excellent eye for blocking on a small stage and cultivates the ensemble’s natural strengths. Andresakis manages to draw out some of the best performances I’ve seen this FringeNYC season.
The ensemble has perfect balance of chemistry. Their relationships are as natural and they are awkward. Amato leads the cast as Marty creating a character that is easy to hate for his ungrateful whining and yet you find yourself rooting for him. Melissa Eddy Quilty plays Barbara with all the charm of an alligator but she too manages to get us on her side. Her scene with the judgmental and calculating Leslie, played brilliantly by Monica Wyche, is the best scene in the entire play. I wish there were more scenes with just these two vibrant women exchanging spiteful monologues. Gary Ray truly dominates the stage with his loveable Robert character. He turns the story on its head by being so charming.
The Egg Progect challenges the idea that the dysfunctional family can’t function. It finds a middle ground between reality and illusion and creates a world where the extraordinary is possible. This play certainly has the potential to move beyond this festival so check it out before you have to pay off-Broadway prices to see it.