A Playful AND Powerful Substance

image0.jpegShelter in Place

Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz

The long and short of it; certainly the short of it–the ‘Playful Substance’ effort for “Shelter in Place” by Raphael Perahia is an excellent production of a very good play. It is running through the following weekend, and so if you have the opportunity to see it, you should. You will be amply rewarded.
The idea of clumping together strangers in a room; or, clumping together acquaintances dealing with an usual situation, is not new. “The Petrified Forest” to “When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder?” to “No Exit”, or the movie “The Breakfast Club” are fine examples.
The first building block for the success of the evening is its clever plot: Four boorish twenty-somethings are wasting away their Monday afternoons by half-paying attention to their Art Class Instructor, Jahoose,(wonderfully played by Rahoul Roy), while drawing some fruit. All four have their mind on other things, a harbinger of the narcissistic, oblivious modern age we live in,  and art–the creation of it, the attempt to understand it–is the last thing on the minds of at least three of the four inhabitants.
There is constant interruption, to the point of outward rudeness, and yet, this seems to be what makes the quartet tick. Say or do what I want to say or do, regardless of the consequences.
Mr. Perahia has an excellent ear for dialogue, and has created  four characters/students that fall right out of Carl Jung’s playbook–the Alpha Male, the Stoner: the Artist, and the Bored, Sexless Working Mother. All move along relatively well (despite some opening-night jitters with line-droppings); a slow, steady pulse established by the playwright which leads the audience towards the heart of the play, not away from it.
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Suddenly, without warning, a fire alarm goes off; now, we watch how the five characters respond to it in vastly different ways. It makes for a robust, riveting act of drama.
Mr. Perahia, despite the occasional red herring or tangent that doesn’t quite get resolved, has written an excellent play. At times standard drama, then farce, then allegory, then knocking down the fourth wall and building it back up–it is quite the dramatic ride. He also writes wickedly funny dialogue, much of it falling out of the mouth of Zeek (played ably by Brandon Fox), the pot dealer who has at his beck and call a shaman named Victor (!?) who lives in Newark, of all places, guiding him (or not) through the travails of his confused life.
The second half of the first act was a brilliant piece of theater–“Shelter in Place”, apparently an official administrative phrase, has been put in place by the Fire Department, meaning that there is indeed a fire occurring and that no one can leave where they are…and this causes more than one unsettling moment for the quintet. Suddenly, eerily, echoes of  that dreadful, horrible day 18 years ago in September bubble to the surface–people facing fire, in the unlikeliest of places, and they may now be shockingly in the midst of their last seconds on earth. Jennifer, brilliantly portrayed by Megan Greener, attempts to make one final phone call that is both hysterical and gut-wrenching, and it was the high point of the evening.
In reality, the play could’ve ended after the first act was concluded. However, Mr. Perahia wanted to say other things, and after his contribution to Act I, he certainly had earned this opportunity.
Forgiveness, loss, youth, love, and how art–or lack of it–affects our daily lives–, the second act, while not as compelling as the first act, still completed a riveting evening in the theater. The rest of the cast, completed by Dan Kellmer and Nicole Amaral, created a wonderful, five-fingered fist–ensemble acting at its absolute finest. Go see this show if you can.
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