Monday, October 24, 2016

REVIEW: “THE LAST SUNSET” IN MONTCLAIR A MIXED BAG

By Ruth Ross

It’s been said that one-act plays are notoriously difficult to write. After all, a playwright has to create what is essentially a slice of life in a very brief time. For the audience, the one-act play can be attractive. As the producer of The Last Sunset Eric Alter noted in his program notes, “If [an audience member] doesn’t like one, there is always another one 10 or 15 minutes later.”

Produced by Alter’s Apricot Sky Productions onstage at the Grove Street Theatre in Montclair, The Last Sunset is an evening of seven one-act plays and two monologues. Some of the playlets, which focus on romantic relationships, parenthood, terminal illness and aging, are interesting, but the acting is rather uneven.

The two most successful one-act plays are by Eric Alter. Set in an old-age home on New Year’s Eve, Decades (directed and choreographed by Kimberly Jackson) involves three old timers asleep in their chairs as midnight approaches. When the two attendants turn the radio on and leave them alone to pursue some hanky-panky, the trio suddenly comes to life and performs the various dance styles (jitterbug, mashed potato, the twist) to the appropriate music playing on the radio countdown. When the attendants return, however, the old folks have resumed their gorked-out positions as though nothing has happened. Lindsay Kopp, Melissa Kaban, Desiree Rubolotta, Michael McEntee and Kay Koch turned in fine performances, but the action dragged on for too long. With a little trimming, Decades could be a cogent comment on the humanity lurking behind those nearly dead facades presented by many old people.

The Second First Date, also by Alter (directed by Jon DeAngelis), focuses on a major case of mistaken identity. Senior citizen Seymour (Art Delo) is waiting in a restaurant for his blind date to arrive. Instead of Diane, a woman his age, a tootsie named Cheyenne arrives; each mistake the other for the person they are to meet. In direct contrast to Sy’s courtly manners, Lauren Einzig’s hooker Cheyenne is in-your-face vulgar, snapping her gum, twirling her hips and talking coarsely. When the two dance, she peps him up while he softens her rough edges. By the time Sy’s real date arrives, the lives of two individuals have been changed. Brian Carroll as the bartender/waiter and Stephanie Turner as Diane perform their small roles well, but its Delo and Einzig who really wow.

The other five playlets are less successful. Alter’s The Break-up King (directed by Helen Exel) uses a hokey device for its hero (Lou Pipon) to ditch his annoying girlfriend Lily (Christine Bielaszka). The Literary Merit of People’s Exhibit One (by Zames Curran, directed by Bob Lowy) reduces the work of a poet (Brian Carroll ) to an exhibit in a courtroom during an obscenity trial; I guess we never really thought about how a poet would feel about his work being reduced to a piece of evidence. In Lyle Landon’s Baby Rabies( directed by Bob Lowy), an annoying mother (Martha Day) nags her twenty-something daughter (Kay Koch) about having a child—a scenario many young people have experienced, to be sure. The daughter’s solution is priceless.

In The Last Sunset by Eric Alter (directed by Bob Lowy), a mom agonizes about her parenting, only to face terminal illness in the second section of the play—a difficult situation that requires superior acting. The scene would have been more poignant had the acting been better. And A Dog’s Life by Robert Scott Sullivan (directed by Gwen Orel) is enlivened by Niall Ng’s delightful portrayal of the dog RJ, but pulled down by Patrick Little’s morose philosophizing about terminal illness—until we realize that he’s talking about putting RJ to sleep!

The two monologues are an equally mixed bag. The more successful of the two, The Second Coming of Sliced Bread by George Ruthauser (directed by Bob Lowy) has an able Gary Martin at a funeral talking to an unseen mourner about eulogies and wondering what people will say about him at his funeral. In Drive By, written and directed by Phoebe Farber, Dan Johnson loudly and angrily addresses his unseen wife in the car about her affair with a math substitute in her school. Lots of shouting; not enough vulnerability.

Apricot Sky Productions is to be commended for giving these New Jersey playwrights a chance to have their efforts performed onstage. While it doesn’t approach the polish of, say, Chatham Community Theatre’s annual Jersey Voices, The Last Sunset is interesting although it could use a bit more polish.

The Last Sunset will be performed for one more weekend at the Grove Street Theatre, 130 Grove Street (in the Deron School), Montclair, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM. For information and tickets, visit www.apricotskyproductions.com.