Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fresh Kills (59E59)

By Scott
great acting • intimate setting • effective and evocative staging • predictable story

BOTTOM LINE: What happens in the truck stays in the truck.

Fresh Kills, now playing at 59E59 Theaters, is an interesting theatrical experience. While the 90 minutes or so are very efficiently used and the play is quite dramatic, it offers no real thematic surprises. So, while I did enjoy it, I must confess that I was left wanting more. I was hoping that the story would take an unpredictable turn or that a character would reveal or confess something I didn't see coming and would thus shake up the narrative. That did not happen. Fresh Kills does not necessarily offer anything new in terms of narrative or structure, but what it does offer is an enormously effective production I challenge even the most cynical theatergoer not to be seduced by.

Staten Island couple Eddie and Marie are participants in a life and marriage that, where joy may have once existed, is now primarily filled with stress and frustration. The attempts they each make to keep the other interested and interesting are usually usurped by the exigencies of suburban family life. Feeling empty, alone, conflicted, and - quite obviously - confused, Eddie starts chatting with a young boy online. They agree to meet, Eddie claims he doesn't want sex, the boy clearly does want attention, Eddie tries to cut it off, the boy shows up at Eddie's house, Marie takes a liking to the boy she thinks Eddie has taken on as a big brother, the boy (Arnold) threatens to out him, Eddie doesn't want to lose his family...etc, etc, and so the story goes. There is nothing new here. But what makes Fresh Kills compelling theatre are two key elements essential to any good play: a fantastic staging concept that puts the audience in the middle (almost literally) of the action, and, of course, great acting.

Fresh Kills plays in a tiny black box theatre that can't have more than 50 seats. The playing area is small and in the center (taking up virtually all the space) is a large pickup truck. From the minute you walk into the theatre a sense of confinement and restriction is palpable. The seats are close together, there is not a lot of leg room - it’s as if Eddie's internal emotional experience is made physical for the audience by virtue of the space. Director Isaac Byrne takes an enormous risk by keeping his actors in a stationary vehicle for a large portion of the play, and forcing them to maneuver around the vehicle when they are not in it, but it pays incredible dividends. Most of the action takes place in the truck, and the scenes out of the truck usually involve Eddie trying to cover up what has gone on in the truck, so the ever-present truck becomes the elephant in the room. Like the truth you refuse to acknowledge, it is always there. Waiting to be dealt with. Or not. During a brief period when the truck was moved off stage, its absence was absolutely deafening. I bet these actors never thought they'd have to worry about being upstaged by a truck.

Luckily they weren’t. The cast of Fresh Kills is in absolute fine form. Characterizations aside, it is never easy to perform in a small space, with the front row of the audience literally at your toes, and to have to maneuver around a large inanimate object. That the cast does this effortlessly is a testament to the artistry of each of them individually and to them collectively as a company. Robert Funary successfully finds all the nuances of Eddie's internal struggle. I was at once frustrated by him, yet sympathetic towards him. I understood the struggle he was trying to resolve and I was on the edge of my seat hoping the delicate balance of his life would not upend. Therese Plummer brings a feisty sexiness to Marie that makes her imminently likable. Plummer never allows her character's frustrations and disappointments to overshadow her optimism and that is what makes her truly alluring. You are really mad at Eddie for any pain he may cause her. Todd Flaherty plays the hustler Arnold with a perfect snarl. His disdain for all things civilized only partially masks his deep desire for love and acceptance. And Jared Culverhouse is excellent as the brother-in-law cop that everyone has met a thousand times. He is the guy you want around to protect you when danger arrives, but not the guy you want to cross.

Fresh Kills is an enormously satisfying theatrical experience. Great acting with actors so close you can reach out and touch them (but don't) will always be a worthwhile outing. I highly recommend you check it out during its short run at 59E59 so long as you don't suffer from claustrophobia. Or even if you do. You will probably have an even more intense experience than I did!

(Fresh Kills plays at 59E59, 59 East 59th Street between Lexington and Park, through March 1 only. Performance times are Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8:30pm, Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 3:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $18, to purchase call 212-279-4200 or visit For more information, visit

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