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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Over the Line

Does anyone ever really study in study hall? The sharp, unabashed dialogue of P. Seth Bauer’s Over the Line makes you glad they don’t, and the strong, competent cast draws a clear picture of six teenagers struggling with adolescence in the New Millennium. However, the show’s second act is a disappointing derailment: all heavy-handed political subtext.

Amanda Dillard, Darren Lipari, Anwen Darcy, and Ivory Aquino in P.Seth Bauer's
OVER THE LINE at The Drilling Company.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Anyone who remembers being (or raising) a teenager can relate to the characters in P. Seth Bauer’s new play, Over the Line. In a mainstream middle-class American suburb, these kids are given mindless chores, pointless homework assignments, and a slew of warnings from parents and teachers that include “don’t ask questions” and “wait until college.” Their resulting apathy and frustration get expressed through alcohol abuse in friends’ basements or sexual experiments in the backseats of cars.

Bauer’s ruthless writing keeps these characters gritty and real. They swear as a means of shocking one another, for example, and add cigarettes and condoms to an R-rated game of Spin the Bottle. The show revolves around Becky (Amanda Dillard), a sassy blonde who uses her own sex appeal as a weapon before it can be used back against her, and Noah (David Holmes), her pensive, intellectual sometimes-boyfriend. These actors impressively channel these manic, vulnerable teenagers, especially the expert and cunning Dillard, whose character never knows what she wants and so blames others for her agitated state. (Watch her blaze across stage fueled by high-powered angst or even just slumped in a chair, dripping with apathetic ennui.)

As Noah, Holmes plays off of Dillard with patient energy, adding a quiet depth to each scene. Often sitting or standing along the edge of the stage and speaking in soft, slow sentences, Holmes truly embodies the shy, smart boy in high school who thinks too much. Despite their differences, Becky and Noah gravitate towards each other through a mutual need for acceptance and understanding, exposing a tender underlying love story and offsetting the rest of the play’s screaming and profanity.

It’s actually too much drama to resolve, and that leads to an unbalanced second act full of improbable decisions and lame resolutions. The first act crafts relatable characters with true-life crises and believable, if destructive, coping methods; the second act makes them trite. Toward the end of the play, what was real is now bizarre, such as a valedictorian’s choice to join the army—in the middle of her commencement speech. To say nothing of Noah’s reaction to landing in juvenile prison: he takes delightful refuge in his solitude and discovers Kafka at the communal library.

With the loss of these genuine, touching lives, Bauer is no longer able to captivate the audience. Director Hamilton Clancy keeps the drama up, pushing the actors to retain the energy of disgruntled teenagers (who skip from of angst to glee in a heartbeat). The skilled supporting cast includes Anwen Darcy, Darren Lipari, Brendan Reilly and Ivory Aquino, all who make each scene count, be it their great comic timing or the so-real-it’s-chilling funk of a moody teenager.

Set designer Jen Varbalow completes the suburban Americana theme with an inventive take on the manicured green lawn and white picket fence, all painted directly onto the stage with harsh white lines pointing outwards from all four sides of the black box. She also uses wooden classroom chairs for all the scenes whether or not they take place in school, giving an impression of overbearing authority and the limited amount of escape allowed in such a small town. While not winning the audience over completely, when Over the Line sticks to what works and keeps from trying too hard, it does manage to strike a chord with all of us who survived high school and lived to tell the tale.

Over the Line (2 hours; one 10-minute intermission)
The Drilling Company (236 West 78th Street)
Tickets ( $18
Performances (through December 6th): Thurs.-Sats. @ 8pm; Suns. @ 3pm; Final performance December 6th @ 6pm

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