Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Manipulation 101

by Michael Block

Emotions can take a toll on a person’s decision making. The mind can play tricks when you become attached to an idea of someone or something. A gut reaction can alter the lives of others, sometimes for the best, other times, not so much. In Battalion Theatre’s production of Erica Lipez’s clever dramady The Tutors, the lives of three twenty-somethings are examined as the titular characters take on their biggest challenge: themselves.
The Tutors follows roommates, web entrepreneurs, and tutors Joe, Toby, and Heidi as they deal with three separate entities that control their every waking move. When Milo, a bratty rich kid blackmails his dual tutors Joe and Toby, a chain reaction of emotions is set off revising relationships. Heidi, who has turned into a homebody with a client turned imaginary friend, tries to regain her sanity from her isolated state. The Tutors, a piece that has rightly found life in New York, is an exceptional script that is poignant and engaging. It’s a wonderful examination on longing and companionship. Director Gadi Rubin uses a barebones set that worked for storytelling. While the design by Kyu Shin looked more thrown together than connected, the simplicity allowed for the story to remain a focal point. As far as staging goes, Rubin’s use of the trio of revolving doors was a useful and strong approach. With such abnormal architecture to navigate, using the doors to their advantage made them part of the world. Rubin’s approach to the script was interesting. There were moments that the felt drawn out that slowed the piece down, losing the impact of the more intimate moments. But when Rubin and his cast found the nuances of Lipez’s script, they were fantastic. Despite some plot mishaps, Rubin’s vision for the piece was quite strong.
The five piece ensemble did a fine job discovering the characters in Lipez’s world. Kullan Edberg was perfect as lost Heidi. Sure her character was borderline Harper Pitt, but Edberg's reality factor was powerful. Edberg had a charm about her that made her plot line a great central focus. Giving the arrogant yet captivating Joe depth, Dan Gonon had an ease about him on stage. Gonon’s Joe was the glue that kept the characters together, shockingly despite the character’s calculating nature. With Gonon’s likeability so strong, you could see why the other characters were drawn to him. Both Milo and Joe are emotional manipulators but use two very drastic tactics. Michael Greehan as Milo lacked the age believability, which truly diminished the impact of age and power. The character is rich, literally and metaphorically, but Greehan’s monotonous approach detracted from the strength and command he had at times. As Toby, Gerrit Thurston was either so natural or so forced, that his performance came off as a bit strategic. Toby is quite possibly the most put together and sane characters but Thurston’s pining for Joe, a critical aspect of his character, was lacking. That being said, Toby’s care and admiration aided in Thurston’s strongest moments on stage.
Battalion Theatre’s production of The Tutors is overall quite strong. Though choosing a script with an already established New York life over a new work is a bummer, this show is still worth checking out.