Thursday, March 2, 2023



By Ruth Ross 

Each of the seven playlets that comprise Vivid Stage’s latest production, Only Human: Stories of Connection, presents a scenario in which a character has an epiphany, a moment of sudden revelation or insight that changes their view of the world and themselves. Using humor and warmth, the playwrights and talented actors vividly show us that, on the inside, people are more alike than different. (Left: Serena Marie Smith and Joshua T. Crockett at a farmers' market)

Playwrights Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, Lara Ekstrand, Steve Harper, Stephen Kaplan, Mark Harvey Levine, Matthew Weaver and David Lee White have set their snippets in a variety of settings: an employment office, a farmers’ market, coffee shop, a darkened neighborhood, a bus stop, a NYC park bench and a taxicab. They tell what are ultimately stories about various forms of love: love of a job, romantic love, gay love, companionship and parental love.

It would be cruel to give away the plots, such as they are; in fact, the playlets are not even listed in the program, leaving us to be surprised when the revelations occur. (Right: Mitchell Leigh Gordon and Harry Patrick Christian)

But it is the very talented group of actors who pull this off by portraying a myriad of characters, some of them more than one. Two are newcomers, one has acted here before, while four are company veterans.

Newcomer Serena Marie Smith does yeowoman’s duty in four playlets and succeeds brilliantly in all of them: a crisp businesswoman, a seller of apples, and the mother of an elementary schoolgirl. Harry Patrick Christian does his usual stellar job as a nasty supervisor and as Joshua, one-half of a gay couple that has broken up. The two roles allow him to stretch himself in very different roles. Noreen Fairley, as always, provides bittersweet humor, especially as job applicant Sally Winters, a seemingly dotty older woman who has a few things to teach the young whippersnapper interviewing her. She’s also terrific as a supportive stranger attempting to connect to a lonely young man she’s encountered at a NYC bus stop (Left: Fairley and Crockett).

Also playing multiple roles is newbie Joshua T. Crockett, who shows his acting chops as a young man fearful of death, a young man sans home and family—both of which he portrays with conviction. Mitchell Leigh Gordon’s portrayal of a lovesick artist and Kurt, who’s trying to break up with his gay lover, are also natural and convincing.

And finally, but not least, Harriett Trangucci (Right, with Mitchell Lee Gordon) sinks her teeth into two juicy roles: that of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, which she plays with great élan, and a very nervous mother who, fretting over things that could happen to her child, attempts to control everything that involves her little girl.

The final playlet is an ensemble piece; all the actors climb aboard a cab hurtling through Life, much to the amusement and recognition of the audience. It is a fitting finale to this collection.

Director Andrew Binger is to be commended for keeping things moving along at just the right pace and for eliciting fine performances out of the septet of actors. Sets are minimal, often involving tables, chairs, park benches; Zach Pizza provides evocative set and lighting design. Jeff Knapp supplies masterful sound that design adds to the atmosphere of each scene, and Laura Ekstrand’s costumes suit the characters wearing them. (Below, left: the ensemble embarks on a taxi ride of life)

Only Human: Stories of Connection is an innovative way to peel back the layers of appearance to get to the core of being that is human nature. This production succeeds so well because it resonates with a wide range of people; each person in the audience could identify with several, if not all, of the situation and revelations depicted in the plays. And, once again, the actors at Vivid Stage show why this troupe has endured for so many years (I think I started reviewing them in the late 90s–early aughts), much to the delight of local theatergoers. So spread the word that Vivid Stage has once again pulled off a delightful and insightful evening of theater!

Only Human: Stories of Connection will be performed at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave., Summit, through March 5. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM. For information and tickets, call 800.838.3006 or visit online.