Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review - "Eddie" at Midtown International Theatre Festival

Despite having a very intriguing concept--a bullied teen who finds himself falling in love with his bully--playwright Matthew Ethan Davis's "Eddie," as presented at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is more of a work-in-progress, than a fully realized piece.

What we see are glimpses of an exciting story.  A disabled teen in a tough, inner-city school, mercilessly bullied by one of the jocks.  A bully hiding more than one secret of his own.  A school psychologist who is trying to break through to the withdrawn teens.  A prostitute mother wracked with guilt, when she is not addled by drugs and alcohol, with an abusive boyfriend/pimp.  A lonely girl, dying for attention.

But these elements never convincingly come together to create a compelling production.  What we are left with is a handful of interesting scenes, a couple of decent performances, and a show that could grow into something interesting, with a little bit of work.

Given that this is a festival, technical aspects of the show are necessarily sparse.  That suits Davis's quick cut scenes, though even with the simple technical aspects, some scene changes are a bit longer than they should be.  I think some of that may be due to the short rehearsal time that most festival shows have, and the lack of time using the actual performance space.  Given a longer run and more permanent home, I think this would work itself out.

The individual performances are a little uneven. Jacob Banser, as the bully Greg, is the surprising highlight of the show.  Banser shows equal adeptness at playing Greg's joy in tormenting Eddie, and his growing realization that his bullying is hiding something deeper.  In addition, one of the plot points hinges on the fact that Greg is losing his hearing.  Banser does a subtle job from his first appearance at playing with this. It's never overt, but when the fact is finally revealed, one can look back and see all the hints.

Yair Ben-Dor is fine as the titular bullied teen, though would like to see a little more range from him.  The character is a bit over-written--for a poor, inner-city boy raised by a drug-addicted prostitute, he is exceptionally well-spoken and witty--so I would like to see more visceral reactions from him, the kind you expect from a teen boy, especially one dealing with his first same-sex feelings.

And while Banser does a good job playing his character's loss of hearing, Ben-Dor is less successful.  Some of this has to be placed with director Brian Catton's blocking.  There are times when people are talking to Eddie's deaf ear (assumed to be his right ear, since he holds the cell phone to his left).  There is a particular scene with Linda, his school friend, where she quietly says something while they're hugging, her face buried in his right shoulder, which Eddie could not have possibly heard.

Steve Carrieri's Kyle, the school psychologist, is not well-fleshed out, and if the play is ever expanded into a longer version, I expect this character will play a much bigger role.  Carrieri does what he can with the part, though his interactions with Eddie's mother never quite click.

Nina Salza and Jay Rivera as Eddie's mother April and her boyfriend James generally perform well.  Salza's attempts at playing drunk fall a little flat, but her scenes where April vows to turn her life around are spot on.  Rivera is at his best when showing James's feral cunning, though I would like to see more danger from James.

Madison McGhee does a good job with a character that really has no place in the play yet.  Linda, one of Eddie's friends, seems like a lonely girl, desperate for someone to listen to her, but who walks an uneven line between fantasy and reality.  She is not yet integral to the play, and needs to be more incorporated into it if the show is expanded.

While "Eddie" is not quite there yet, I look forward to seeing how the show evolves in the future.

Written by Matthew Ethan Davis
Directed and Produced by Brian Catton
Co-Produced by Adyana de la Torre
Ticket 2 Eternity Productions/7 Guild Productions
Featuring: Jacob Banser, Steve Carrieri, Yair Ben-Dor, Madison McGhee, Jay Rivera and Nina Salza

Final performance Sunday, August 3rd at 2:30 PM
The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre
312 W. 36th Street

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