From left to right: Brandon Bales, Stephanie Wright Thompson and Jocelyn Kuritsky
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
The Clarkson family is expecting the Dudleys over for company, but they wind up entertaining more guests than anticipated in Ann Marie Healy's Have You Seen Steve Steven? The story begins with lethargic teenager Kathleen Clarkson (Stephanie Wright Thompson) idling at home until her exceedingly chipper mother Mary (Alissa Ford) comes in to tell her that her friends Jane (Kate Hampton) and Bill (Frank Deal) are coming over with their son and Kathleen's childhood friend, Thomas (Brandon Bales). Mary's husband Frank (Tom Riis Farrell) surfaces from the basement, and the primping for the guests begins with deciding who will take a bath first, and where the rest of the Shiraz is. Kathleen's mood remains brooding against her parents' cheerful attitudes and thick Midwestern accents (think Kitty Forman from That 70s Show in overdrive) even after she paints her face with red-light district makeup.While Kathleen is alone in the living room, the first Hank Mountain (Matthew Maher) “sighting” occurs. I use the term “sighting” because Hank, claiming to be a neighbor, seems to know everyone, but no one knows him. He drops by several times throughout the play, and along with his cohort Vera (Carol Rosenfeld), another peculiar neighbor, are seemingly figures from Kathleen and Thomas' dreams who know intimate details about their lives. As the Dudleys congregate, bringing along foreign exchange student Anlor (a wickedly funny and stunned Jocelyn Kuritsky), the play devolves into Twilight Zone fare. Powers of persuasion from Hank and Vera are absorbed, identities are erased, booze is guzzled, and Anlor awakens periodically from her sleep stupor to scream about her dreams. And in the middle of all this, a puppy named Steve Steven seems to have gone missing.
As intended, Sue Rees' set for Have You Seen Steve Steven? is an implied, three-storied mansion with warm tones. It creates a calming mood for the play that is interrupted by the craziness of the plot and characters. The opening sound effects by Jeremy J. Lee are appropriately wacky, and do prepare us for the shift from a normal narrative to an eerie one. Have You Seen Steve Steven? becomes so strange that the first half and the last half do not seem to be connected. In 90 minutes, the shift from tangible to intangible is so sharp that, like the Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg film, AI: Artificial Intelligence, the play could have easily had two writers with two different visions.
The cast peers into the audience, using the fourth wall with no clear direction from Anne Kaufman about what they're looking at. Is it the front yard, or is it the hills? Also, Kathleen misses a choice opportunity to demonstrate her vulnerability by applying her makeup with her back turned to the audience rather than facing the audience. The parents in the cast are amusing but are all on the same exaggerated and disturbing tempo. There's a whole lot of dialogue, but not much else goes on. An underlying theme of unearthing secrets exists, and Vera and Hank seem to be the shovelers. Yet in this twilight world, one can never know for sure.Have You Seen Steve Steven? keeps you on your toes, but you may get tired of the balancing act. It's a pseudo-scary comedy for sure, but the tactics used here are better suited for an episode of The Twilight Zone.
....................................................Through October 6th. Tickets: 212-868-4444 $18. The 14th Street Theater
344 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003