*published on 21 Oct 2013 on The EDGE
Talent, like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography, is something that you may not be able to define — but you know it when you see it. And by chance this reviewer saw talent unfurl and scream, “I am here, pay attention.”
The Luna Stage is a small, theater in West Orange N.J. not the usual crucible for new theatrical talent. Or is it? Jane Mandel who served as its artistic director until she stepped down last season founded Luna Stage some 20 years ago.
Mandel helmed Luna well, utilizing her education from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts and her strong bones in experimental theater. Then she handed it over to Cheryl Katz, also a Tisch grad, who had been scratching in piles of written work for eight years as the Director of New Works. Katz certainly uncovered a spectacular new playwright in Ben Clawson, whose work “The High Water Mark” had its world premier on Oct. 10 at the Luna Stage.
Clawson is less than 30, but an old soul who channels dark humor, pathos, slapstick and enlightenment. And he has the perfect delivery gals in the equally talented duo of Sabrina Profitt and Andrea Maulella. Maulella plays the well-married character named Janet, while Profitt is Lily, a newly divorced mom who lost custody of her kids, her house and now lives on the seamy side of town. The two have been friends since childhood. Janet on a toot, seeks out her long lost pal in her new hovel and hijinks ensue.
Yes this is a comedy. Yes the small, well-kept black box theater vibrates with yucks and guffaws, but after intermission the thoughtful writing, careful delivery and seamless direction by Katz gathers like steam in a kettle to provide a roiling emotional experience.
We are all guilty of misdeeds, of poor choices and beyond awkward moments. Some of them impact us and some slide by. It seems that both Janet and Lily have been acting out and acting up for quite a long time and the play provides the moment when it all comes to a boil.
Without giving away the secrets, which have to unfold to make this evening work so well, here is the premise. Lilly, a school teacher, is awakened by Janet who is drunk and out carousing, and with alcohol as the lubricant the conversation begins to flow allowing old friends, both in the midst of differently crafted mid-life crises, to commence self diagnosing, complaining and plotting.
The entire play takes place in a small apartment, well designed by Charles Lucas with enough doors and a window to provide for farcical physical antics aplenty. The lights by Jorge Arroyo and the costumes by Deborah Caney continue to set the scene so that the audience is immersed in the lives and fate of these two women. In the hands of a lesser crew of actors and designers this play might seem only over the top and lack any emotional punch so crucial to make it the fully realized event it became on opening night.
There is something magical about being on the other side of the river from where one traditionally expects the new, the amazing to be unearthed and presented. And it is more than heartening to see such stunning new talent populating plays with characters able to make us laugh, sigh and question the vibration of the spheres.