Monday, December 22, 2014

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Pocatello



Restaurant Serves Up Desires for Family, Belonging in a Hungry America
By Lauren Yarger
No matter how bad times get, we always have family. But what happens if that’s not true? Where do we find our sense of roots, belonging and support then?

These are the questions raised in Pocatello, the premiere of a new play by award-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter at Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway in New York.

Pocatello is a small town in Idaho, where Eddie (T.R. Knight of TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy” fame) runs an Italian chain restaurant franchise that he is pouring his own savings into to postpone the closing that corporate is telling him must occur. The restaurant is everything to Eddie: his claim of a place in his hometown and a source of existence for his extended family of employees.

That group consists of Max (Cameron Scoggins), a drug user who is grateful to Eddie for giving him a job when no one else would; Isabelle (Elvy Yost), a waitress who utters profanity while trying to keep service running smoothly; and Troy (Danny Wolohan), who took a waiting job to avoid a move that would make his daughter, Becky (Leah Karpel), have to switch schools when he lost his job at the local paper mill. They all appreciate Eddie. He’s the best boss, after all, since he puts up with their trysts in the back room, pot smoking and hasn’t had the heart to tell them that the restaurant needs to close.

His idea to sponsor an employee “Famiglia Week” doesn’t go over so well, though, since dysfunctional is a mild term for the family members who come for dinner.

Troy’s alcoholic wife, Tammy (Jessica Dickey), wonders whether she would have been better off with old beau Eddie while coping with Tory's father, Cole (Jonathan Hogan), who suffers from Alzheimer's, bulimic daughter Becky who can’t eat anything -- especially meat -- because of the processes used in preparing it. She rattles on excessively about cows getting caught in slaughter machinery and promptly sours the evening.

Eddie’s mother, Doris (Brenda Wehle) can’t seem to find anything on the menu she likes either and brother, Nick (Brian Hutchinson) can’t wait to get out of the place. Is it his loathing of being back in the town that holds bad memories of his father, or is it that he is uncomfortable around his homosexual brother? The only one who seems genuinely pleased to be there and to make an effort at reuniting family is Nick’s wife, Kelly (Crystal Finn), who urged her husband to make the trip home.

Davis McCallum, who directed Hunter’s sensitive and moving play The Whale at Playwrights in 2012, returns here and creates an atmosphere (with the restaurant set designed by Lauren Helpern and music/sound ambiance designed by Matt Tierney) that keeps us interested. Knight, in particular, delivers a solid portrayal of a man losing control, but unable to figure out what to do to make things better.

The play itself is flawed. Too many people thrown at us in the opening scene with run-on conversations makes it difficult to figure out who’s who and what is going on. In addition, Wehle doesn’t look old enough to be Eddie’s mother, so at first I thought she was Nick’s wife and the young-looking Finn was their daughter making it even more confusing.

The action evens out, but Hunter, who is a 2014 MacArthur Foundation “Genius,” fails to take us as deeply into the characters as we need to go. What exactly happened with Eddie and Nick’s father? Why did Eddie and Doris become estranged and what motivates her to make a renewed effort to reach out to her son?

We leave with a feeling of despair in an atmosphere where family relationships appear to be going the same way as small-town life --  replaced by chains and strip malls rather – rather than with hope in the staple of family relationships, which I think is on Hunter’s take-out menu.

Pocatello runs through Jan. 4 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 PM.  Special Monday evening performances Dec. 22 and Dec. 29. Tickets $75-$95 with discounts available: www.TicketCentral.com; (212) 279-4200.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Sexual dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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