Sunday, July 27, 2014

Theater Review: All New People

Posted By on Sun, Jul 27, 2014 at 1:29 PM

Zach Braff earned his undergrad degree in absurdist comedy by starring in seven seasons of Scrubs, and got his Masters in indie angst by writing and directing Garden State. So it makes sense that his 2011 play All New People, which is being presented by Point Blank Productions at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center through 7/27, is somewhat of a doctoral dissertation on merging the two disciplines. 

Charlie (Jake Teixeira) is at the end of his rope -- or orange extension cord, to be exact -- and is about to hang himself in a New Jersey island beach house when realtor Emma (Carol Crosby) coincidentally enters and interrupts the attempted suicide. The gregarious ganja smoker (a refugee from Great Britain in search of a green card) tries to get Charlie to divulge the reason for his depression, enlisting her firefighter/drug dealer friend Myron (Alex Aragon) to cheer him up. In true sitcom style, a ukelele-playing high-dollar escort (Madison Gomez as "Kim") arrives, courtesy of Charlie's billionaire buddy. Before this one-act pilot episode is over, each character divulges their deep dark backstory between obscene wisecracks and fortune cookie platitudes about divine intervention and human connection.

All New People is the third presentation from Point Blank Productions, which was formed in 2011 by Hagerty High School alumni Teixeira and Aragon, who collaborate as co-producers and co-directors (with assistant direction by Chelsea Sorenson). The cast and crew are all local college students, and have done an impressive job assembling the production, considering their age and experience, and earned appreciative laughs from the supportive opening night audience.  Myron is the breakout character, and Aragon executed his coke-snorting, bullshit-cutting outbursts with a standup comic's precision, while Gomez enhances Kim's enchanting eye candy with sly suggestions that this wannabe singer is smarter than she seems. 

The two central performances are more troublesome, with Teixeira never finding a way to make Charlie's unremitting grumpiness in any way appealing, begging the question on why these strangers want to save him; it doesn't help that he's way too young and WASPy for a mid-30's Jew. Crosby pours admirable energy into Emma's improbably eccentric character, but is felled by a distractingly inconsistent English accent. Equally inconsistent is the pace, which sometimes crackles with tight comic timing, and other times stumbles with maudlin pauses and stiff pratfalls. Adding to the awkwardness are flashback moments that were scripted as filmed interludes; staged instead with long blackouts on either end, the scene-lets add little and bring the momentum to a screeching halt.

Ultimately, this is a B performance of a C script, which tends to combines the worst elements of Braff's wackiness and navel-gazing. Despite a number of interestng elements,the show is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. The young talents behind Point Blank have obvious potential, and I applaud the hard work that I know first-hand a production like this takes. For their next outing, I hope they find a better, more age-appropriate play to practice their craft on.


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