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Shining, Even In The Dark – Blackouts

by Karen Tortora-Lee on October 19, 2009

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Where were you during the New York blackout? People still ask, even though the most recent one happened six years ago. But live through just one in New York City and you’ll understand why it’s such a bookmark in the story of your life here; in a city that never sleeps, that is always alive and jolted with energy – of the personal kind as much as the Con Ed kind – it’s eerie to see it all go dark, quite, and almost retro. Neighbors will gather on their stoops to share their stories, and perhaps their food (someone has to eat all the ice cream before it melts …) music or news sounds tinny as it comes to you from that old transistor radio you keep “for emergencies”, and all the distractions that fill up our days disappear in a snap. I sure remember where I was during the blackout …

New York City had two of them that stopped the city still – one in 1977 and one in 2003. Blackouts written by J. Anthony Roman and Directed by Jill DeArmon, is two acts connected by history and legacy, and divided by one tragic loss.

When we first come upon Eddy (Max Woertendyke) in 1977, he’s in his tighty whities painting a huge canvas which demands “Where Did It All Go?” in his small Hell’s Kitchen apartment which is decorated with other large works of his creation. Inspired by his life and fueled by a little cocaine, his artwork proclaims things like “TRUTH” and “All You Need Have Is Love”. This is a guy with a lot to say, and a huge need to express himself. When his wife, Sarah (Jamie Klassel) comes home, and the two coo over their infant son James it’s the picture of domestic (if a bit bohemian) bliss. Their passion for each other is as true as Eddy’s passion for his art, and their love is made all the more sweeter as it’s juxtaposed next to the screaming hurricane of insults that wafts through the windows – their friends and neighbors are fighting again.

We meet this feuding couple soon enough as they use the roof as a hallway and the window as a doorway. Soon we’re treated to Phil (Zachary Fletcher) and Janine (Lisa Snyder) who enter and exit like a whirlwind, fighting about money and responsibility and who should be what role, and how getting married means becoming a grownup. Frankly, you can feel Eddy and Sarah’s relief that they are so different than their sadly disconnected friends.

Writer J. Anthony Roman does an excellent job of bringing the 70s to life in these four characters, and he also does justice to the lives of his characters by giving the story of these two couples to us in an honesty, unforced progression. Director Jill DeArmon complements the story perfectly with just the right touches; when Eddy’s brass ring slips from his grasp (even as Phil gets his act, and his marriage, together) and he struggles to deal with his inner demons as well as his growing cocaine addiction it’s as real as watching a sunny day become overcast and then explode into a brutal nor’easter. And therein lies the gem in Blackouts – this isn’t a story about the lights going out in a city. This is the story about the lights going out in a life.

Twenty six years later, but really just the span of an intermission, it’s now 2003 and sweet baby James (again played by Max Woertendyke) who managed to not only survive his father’s destructive force but actually flourishes on his memory and his legacy, is living in the same Hell’s Kitchen apartment and bringing up a child of his own with Evy (Lisa Snyder). He’s good friends with Corbin (Zachary Fletcher), the son of Phil and Janine and he seems to be doing well for himself. Unfortunately, Act One ends with so many questions that Act Two starts with an overload of exposition, though J. Anthony Roman manages to give a credible reason why two lifelong friends would be chatting about something they’d probably mulled over a hundred times before.

When Evy comes home from work she heads straight for the wine and gets busy polishing off a bottle of white … it’s more than just a small echo of James father’s cocaine addiction; it’s almost as if this is a guy who needs to re-live the past in order to understand it, and so he lives in the shadow of a loved one’s addiction in the way his mother did, perhaps to subconsciously understand what his father’s demon was about.

Jamie Klassel, in a much less gut-wrenching role, makes her appearance as Evy’s friend and Corbin’s love interest, Cyan. We spend less of a span of time with this foursome, but learn no less about them; and yet again watch as the lights go out not just in the city but also in a relationship. It is somehow no less heartrending.

Blackouts gives these four main actors each a great vehicle to flex their talent; each of the quartet brings a special note to this piece and give it texture and layers of emotions. Woertendyke – playing father and son both as seekers – is as out of control with lust, passion, and drugs in the first act as he is in control and focused in the second act. Both Snyder and Klassel are able to carry their storylines deftly and with great nuance, but are also able to play the supporting friend role without giving any less in their performance. It is Fletcher, however, (also playing father and son) who would have you swearing that he is a completely different actor in the second act, almost unrecognizable as the same person – so great is his transformation and his skill. Will just the flip of a hairstyle and the removal of a cheesy 70s mustache he was almost unrecognizable.

Blackouts has a great deal of tough life lessons, and hard journeys but a few victories of the spirit as well. This is one to definitely catch before the lights go out again.

October 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22 at 7pm
October 10, 16, 17, 23, 24 at 8pm

Center Stage, NY?(48 W. 21st Street, 4th Floor)

Tickets: ?$18 General Admission?$15 Students / Senior (with ID)?Brown Paper Tickets 1-800-838-3006 ?

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