Saturday, April 11, 2015

Iow@ @ Playwrights Horizons/Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond find a place to let loose at Playwrights Horizons this spring.  The story of Becca as she deals with her mother’s impromptu engagement, iOW@ is a theatrical soiree into the disjointed world of slam poetry.  With the pending nuptials, Becca is forced to move Iowa – and forced to leave everything she knows and loves.  At 14, that kind of change is world shaking, affecting everything we are and pulling the anchor of our lives out from under us. 
Jill Shackner who portrays Becca, connects brilliantly to an underlying storyline and flow that the writing does not offer.  Her acting breathes much needed life into the driving character of iOW@.  Another solid performance comes in Carolina Sanchez.  She delivers every character she has (from the best friend Amanda to a polygamist’s’ wife) with undeniable conviction and presence.  Kolette Tetlow as a young Becca, sets the stage with a solid presence and Annie McNamara steps into the stereotype Cheerleader with wonderful timing.  Lee Sellars is a versatile tour de force on stage as every male character needed.  He transfers from teacher to father to pony (yes pony) in the blink of an eye.  Karyn Quackenbush is a wonderfully crazy Sandy.  As Becca’s mother, although some of her run on monologues land flat, she owns the stage through her electric energy.
Accompanying the cast is the trio of musicians who make up the pit.  With J Oconer Navarro on the piano (also the musical director), Brian Ellingsen on Bass and Sarah Haines on Viola, Todd Almond’s music couldn’t sound more perfect.  Almond delivers thick and beautiful harmonies akin to a movie score and although most of the songs lack a melodic line, his choir-esc vocal arrangements are a delight to the ear.  Jenny Schwartz adds lyrics to the mix with a Philip Glass like style.  Her writing is poetic as it flows from idea to idea like a series of word associations.  Though Schwartz’s book and lyrics often leave the audience with no clear idea of where the story is, it does always stays true to the language of the verse.
The bare set by Dane Laffrey keeps the visual stimulus simple and plain, allowing time to focus on the language of the show.  Laffrey gets a chance to show the audience a small amount of his ability at the end of the show when we arrive in Iowa, leaving me wishing his talents had been used more throughout.  Arnulfo Maldonado’s costumes are an eclectic variety, complementing the feel of the show perfectly.  Though the physical movement of the show sometimes struggled, it seems clear that Ken Rus Schmoll laid the groundwork for strong character study with the actors, allowing them to give their best.
If you want to see great acting and hear beautiful harmonies, iOW@ is a good night out.  It plays now thru May 10th at the Playwrights Horizons.

Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Joan Marcus

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