According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

BFF

With its versatile set, smart staging, and intricate plot, BFF could easily be loved for its mind – however, when all’s said and done, this darker-than-expected show shoots straight for the heart. Be warned, though: it’s got good aim.



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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

Any drama student worth his or her weight in tragedies knows about catharsis – but for wandering Econ majors, let me explain: catharsis, introduced to the world’s consciousness by Aristotle’s Poetics, is the process of living out emotions (the worse the better) through watching the show. It’s sort of empathy on steroids, and, in theory, you emerge from the theater cleansed, renewed – almost like confession, sans first-hand sin or holy closet. Sounds pretty nice, right?

Well if Aristotle cooked up this little nugget of Grecian therapy, Anna Ziegler’s extraordinarily moving (though very female-oriented) WET-produced show, BFF, serves it with a wallop. Directed by the nimble and nuanced Josh Hecht, the play consists of two alternating plotlines – the first focuses on the friendship between two eleven-year-old girls, Eliza and Lauren. Eliza, played by Laura Heisler, is awesomely awkward – while in the retelling, her character sounds like a compilation of clichés (I could easily describe her as a “late bloomer” with “a heart of gold” who “dances to the beat of her own drum”), in these childhood scenes, Heisler gives Eliza’s growing pains an authenticity that made me laugh and cringe at my own adolescence all at once.

While Lauren, played by Sasha Eden, brags about training bras and chooses a dress for the school dance, Eliza gobbles cheetos, dances on furniture and hides herself in overalls. Eden’s 11-year-old Lauren isn’t nearly as cathartic a character – Lauren get a boyfriend, Lauren loves cool music, Lauren had sex when she was 12 (perhaps I got the timeline here confused or am just a repressed Republican, but isn’t that a bit young for the suburbs?). Ziegler’s play is economical in its construction – able to convey a great deal (and wound even more) in tiny vignette scenes. However, she falters the most when writing for the young girls, especially at the plays beginning, and while Heisler overcomes the stilted dialogue by being a sympathetic super-freak, Eden is forced to wistfully recite overly-conscious lines about the process of growing up. Kids don’t talk about how sad it is to grow up – childhood is the most beautiful in hindsight, and kids aren’t exactly sentimental fools.

Despite these small scenes in BFF’s first childhood-centered scenes, Ziegler’s playwriting soon finds its voice and the kids are left to be kids – catty, conniving, codependent – isn’t childhood a ball? Soon a second storyline develops alongside Lauren and Eliza’s middle school adventures, and we’re faced with Lauren again, this time much older and, with the most telling use of a single stage prop I’ve seen all year, obsessed with yoga. That one flat blue mat says everything we need to know – Lauren is trying desperately to find peace. Now, the question becomes, from what?

Of course, the play soon reveals that Lauren is haunted by her friendship with Eliza, and where it all went very, very wrong. Instead of simply letting us watch that downer of a plot, though, Zeigler makes the brilliant choice of giving us a foil – within the first minute of Lauren’s adult scene, we meet Seth, played by Jeremy Webb. If I could marry any character I have ever seen on stage, and have one million of his babies, this is it. Seth is everything most women I know would want in a man – thank you Zeigler; that is one hell of a catharsis. Webb’s Seth invests himself in Lauren and soon the two are dating. Then not dating. Then dating. Eden comes into her own in these scenes (as well as in the second half of the childhood vignettes), emphasizing how Lauren copes, not how she is wounded, making her character complex, personable, and, as catharsis goes, quite easy to sympathize with.

BFF, both a finalist for the 2005 Weissberger Award and the 2006 O’Neill Playwright’s Conference, touches on a long of subjects most women I know have experienced – in fact, the play’s MySpace page (yes, it really does have a MySpace page) invites viewers to share their own best friend stories. However, I took a guy friend with me to the show, and, though he admitted he thought he was going to die in a sea of estrogen during the first five minutes, by the time the actors took their bows, he, too, was won over. This isn’t a chick show – but it may be a chick catharsis. I left the theater, not cleared and cleansed as Aristotle promised, but completely rapt in my own memories of childhood, the best friend I lost, and the relationships that haven’t worked out. But whether or not the show made me feel purged pure, the show made me feel – which is far more than I can say of most productions I’ve seen. And unlike my adolescence, if given the chance, I might even go back and do it again.

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Playing at the DR2 (103 E. 15th Street)
Tickets (www.wetweb.com, 212.239.6200): $25-$35
Performances: February 17th through March 24th, Mondays through Saturdays at 8pm

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