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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review- Sadie, Sadie (FringeNYC)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

Two people can meet anywhere: in line waiting for the (something-or-other) tickets to go on sale, on-line in a (fans-of-some-obscure-star) chat room, at work, on vacation, in an AA meeting (but don't tell), hitchhiking to Canada, in a bar, outside a bar, on the way to a bar, stumbling home from a bar. Sadie (Lilly Tobin) and Jon (EJ Marotta) just happen to meet on the Staten Island Ferry. I have a sneaking suspicion it's because Sadie, Sadie writer Ben Izzo had a great Staten Island joke and wanted to work it in at the top of the show.(Sadie: Why are you going to Staten Island? Jon: I'm going to meet a friend for dinner. Sadie: EEEWWW! Was every other restaurant in every other borough booked?).

Sadie and Jon meet cute, yes... on the Ferry... but cute nonetheless. She likes his toes, and tells him so, and just likes that they're chatting up a storm. Jon is a nice, upstanding, sweet borderline-dork who lives with his endearing hypochondriac of a roommate Henry (Tom McVey) and works in a bakery. Sadie is a motormouth cutie pie fueled by huge quantities of caffeine and lots of TV. She's written to be the kind of person who is very well written; she's snappy, and quirky and funny and quick, she's got an answer for everything and even if she doesn't, she's got something to say that will make you smile, or chuckle. When she cites G
ilmore Girls as the pattern for her relationship with her mother (well, actually, half Gilmore Girls, half Sid and Nancy she says) you understand why she's never at a loss for words, or more precisely... never at a loss for clever, well chosen, funny words, that come across as carefully written dialogue. Because being at a loss for words is not who Sadie is. Sadie is not someone who wouldn't exist on TV.

Gilmore Girls did a lot to allow a clever writer to be clever - why not give every actor the best line every time? Who needs filler? Thankfully, both (Gilmore Girls writer) Amy Sherman Palladino and Ben Izzo recognized the same thing: that clever dialogue can be exhausting to an audience and unless something real happens we're all going to stop listening, and worse – we're going to stop investing in your characters.

Thankfully, the realness happens soon enough. After a whirlwind few weeks of dating ,Sadie takes Jon home to meet her mom Donna (Amy Beth Williams) who likes to nag as much as the next mother, but likes to drink a little bit more than the average one (she makes her entrance, hilariously, from behind the couch where she was presumably passed out, or on the way to it). Sadie and Donna start off with small talk and typical meet-the-parents jitters until Donna simply can't hold it in any longer - she drops the bombshell that Sadie's long gone dad is dead.

Since the man's been MIA anyway, this news isn't so much shocking as it is final. Sadie takes her dad's ashes with her on the ferry (yes, that gosh darn Staten Island Ferry again) and decides to dump her dad into the sea. Not accounting for the wind, some of the ashes go onto (and up the nose of) Jon. Ah, good ole Staten Island Ferry. Always a little something unexpected.

Despite Jon's plea to be "part of your crazy adorable brain" he soon finds Sadie's antics more than he can bear. When, on the advice of her (probably) drunken mother, Sadie gives Jon an exorcism (he inhaled the ashes of her dad... so he's become him), he suddenly doesn't find the whole thing so "adorable" anymore. "Crazy"... yes. "Adorable"... no. As things start to fall apart everything rings a lot truer, and the actors get a chance to rise to the occasion and play beyond their crisp tennis match of witty banter and get into the real guts and bones of their characters.

After intermission (even though we're coming back to a half naked Jon and a half crazed Sadie) everything feels a lot more normal, and when Henry comes to meet with Sadie to give her an update on Jon he proves to be the most wise of all. "Everyone is damaged goods," he says, "Everyone has secret places". And we suddenly see that perhaps all his comical hypochondria is really just a means of coping for him, from being hurt just one too many times. That Henry -- he doesn't say much, but when he does... it's worth listening to.

"I wish I was the essence of Sadie, with all of the goodness and none of the hurt," says Sadie when she's realized that she's really gone too far. Ultimately, though, Sadie is just a kid. She needs a little more hurt to knock the snappy outta her. Because trust me, come 40, that snappy, cute, volley-volley talk is just going to come off as desperate and mocking.

Some of the best moments of the play are not when the main characters are center stage although Lilly Tobin and EJ Marotta do a fine job. Rather, the best moments lie with Henry and Donna. Amy Beth Williams (Donna) manages to convey a good mother with a subtle drinking problem, rather than an overblown drunk, and when she looks at her daughter you can see that this is a woman who did the best she could and didn't plan on being a bored, sad, empty woman. There is a wealth of circumstances that aren't available to us, but that come out of every pore of Amy Beth Williams' performance. Similarly, Tom McVey's Henry is the silent scene stealer; while he spends a lot of time bandaged, half blind, and mopey, when he emerges out from his traumatized state he's like a butterfly (well, okay, a moth) emerging from a chrysalis.

Jon and Sadie are a fun first-date couple, and even a fun first-month couple but their journey to the end is a lot better than their love story; which is to say I enjoy the idea of them apart a lot better than the idea of them together. Their individual paths are more worthy of them than their joint pursuit... which just goes to show you: nothing good ever starts on the Staten Island Ferry.

The New York International Fringe Festival
BE Theatre Company present
Sadie, Sadie
The Lafayette Street Theater

Remaining Performance: Sat, Aug 29th @8:15pm. For more information visit

The Lafayette Street Theater | 45 Bleecker Street | Manhattan.

1 comment:

Anchali said...

First of all, having done some research on the playwright, I found that Ben Izzo actually lived on Staten Island while he was in college for four years. So despite your desire to peg him as a writer driven by cracking a few jokes, if you had done some research, you would have found that he actually was using his life experience to influence his writing.

Second of all, a complaint for witty writing seems like someone just looking for a reason to complain. Having saw "Sadie, Sadie" and truly enjoyed it, I would seriously question your opinions. Additionally, it might do you some good to research the playwrights you blog about.