Some playwrights dip into the pool of odd New Yorkers, set them in a room together, and call that a play. Others actually listen to what those characters have to say. Bekah Brunstetter belongs to that latter camp, and her new play, I Used to Write on Walls is a blast to watch.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Working Man's Clothes has another gripping, visceral hit on their hands, following up on Penetrator with Bekah Brunstetter's I Used to Write on Walls. Not that there aren't blemishes on that wall, or that the chalk Brunstetter uses to pen her play doesn't snap at a bunch of places; it's just that the overwhelming mood of the piece, from Georgia's beat poetry to Mona's mania to Anna's precociously dirty mouth, is one of lurking hilarity. And while the connection of disparate characters (four women, one wild surfer dude) isn't as strong as, say Six Degrees of Separation, it's fresh, hip, and a lot of fun.
The credit for much of that falls to the cast, who don't drop a beat, even when speaking a blend of the ridiculous and beautiful (i.e., "Teeth are the dirty little secret of your face."). Every line sounds natural and crisp, especially those from Diane (a gifted Maggie Hamilton), a vulnerable cop who we first meet leaving a lengthy, bubbly message with her date from the previous night, full of justifications, weak mirthless laughs (like hiccups), and a barely withheld desperation: "Thanks for the sex," she says, closing the phone. Then, looking at it quizzically, "Talk to you again never."
Like most of the women in this play, Diane is smart, and well aware of her faults: she just isn't able to stop them. Anna's mother (Rachel Dorfman), for instance, has to keep telling her beautiful daughter not to look her in the face because it burns her: if she could, she would just steal that face. Joanne (a loose and very pleasant Darcie Champagne) introduces herself to Diane with an acknowledgment that she usually doesn't have much self-confidence, as she hates her vagina. And Trevor (Jeff Berg, whose experience playing Tom Cruise has really paid off here), the "raddest philosopher ever" who they all admire, keeps sinking into woman after woman as a way of punishing himself before God for leaving his one true love behind. Not all of these exaggerated traits work, for instance, the dotty sadist, Mona (a terrifyingly good Ellen David), works more to wake something up in Trevor than she does as an actual character. And the daughter, Anna (Chelsey Shannon), is more a comic device than a need for the play. That said, she's still delightful, which is how Brunstetter gets away with her odd moments.
As co-directed by Diana Basmajian and Isaac Byrne, I Used to Write on Walls flies by in a rush. Even the intermission seems swift, with the first act energizing the audience in the same way as coffee (it almost shouldn't be, but it is). The second act gets a little cramped on stage, as the direction starts to blur the boundaries of each scene, but if sets and lighting are what WMC has to skimp on to produce shows like this, then so be it (read: donate money). I Used to Write on Walls refers to that personal sliver of regret we all have that we don't still do the things we used to. Thankfully, refreshingly so, Bekah Brunstetter hasn't given up on illustrating them to us.
Gene Frankel Theater Underground (24 Bond Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $15.00
Performances (through 10/27): Thursday - Saturday @ 8:00
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.