Early in Jacob Marx Rice's new play Portrait and a Dream, currently having its premiere in this year's New York International Fringe Festival, one character gives an example of another character's intelligence when she flummoxes their teacher by asking what makes Hamlet as a character more interesting than any other whiny emo white boy story. The same could be asked about Rice's main character Nick. There are hundreds of plays about thoughtless young men who date girls who are perfect, and then cheat on them, only realizing too late just what it was they lost. But although the play treads well-worn territory when it comes to plot, this iteration of the idea is something special. For one, both the girls in the play are portrayed as intelligent and witty (and not just idealized bimbos with an informed attribute of "smart") they actually are well-rounded characters who know their own worth. And for another, the story is told non-linearly, with scenes interrupted by monologues or other scenes, then continued or begun again, with new information illuminating past exchanges. The fragmented style is inspired by the visual work of Jackson Pollock; the play is named after one of his paintings.
Nick (Frank Winters) meets Annie (Kate Dearing) on a park bench- he's too nervous to speak to her, but she refreshingly takes the initiative, talking circles around him as he struggles to understand that she likes him. We see scenes from midway through their relationship, where they fight and make up, but clearly love each other. Meanwhile, Annie's best friend from high school, Paige (Chelsea Cipolla), who always idolized Annie for being the smartest one in class, but who is no slouch herself, begins falling for Nick. The script, while very good, is not ideal- the contemplative ending seems to lag after the romantic humor of the beginning, and occasionally the people of the play will act out of character a bit (e.g. a scene with Paige writing letters is more comic than truthful).
All the actors are superb, up to the challenge of some witty and demanding dialogue. Winters is engaging in the lead, effortlessly carrying the bulk of the play with some hefty comically eschatological monologues, and he is charming enough to let the audience understand why both girls might be intrigued by him. Dearing gives an appealingly straightforward and grounded performance, and at times is laugh-out-loud funny. Cipolla, also excellent, invests Paige with a controlled manic energy that lets the repression of her character subtly come through.
The direction, by Katie Lupica, is excellent when it deals with the characters, though she makes the odd choice of fully realizing very short scenes (some only one or two lines) with sets painstakingly lugged into place by two hard-working cute girls in little black dresses (Marissa Bergman and Emily Feinstein). Possibly this is a visual comment on Nick in the play treating women like furniture, but it slows down a lot of the energy of the first half of the play, especially when Lupica also employs projections to indicate scene changes with supertitles.
On the whole, it's quite a good play and worth a look; Marx is a student at Columbia University and shows great promise- if this is what he's writing while still in college, I look forward to seeing more plays from him.
Portrait and a Dream
Cabbages and Kings Theatre Company
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Mon 15 @ 9 Fri 19 @ 4 Sun 21 @ 12 Thu 25 @ 7 Sat 27 @ 5