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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review- Don't Step On The Cracks (FringeNYC)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

Don't Step on the Cracks starring, written and created by the Five Flights Theater Company (Jake Bartush, Laurel Casillo, Colby Cecca, Adam Delia, Nick Hepsoe, Carlyn Kautz, Will Lacker, Sara Lukasiewicz, and Claire McGinley) and directed by Eryck Tait was not written for me, or anyone over the age of 25 for the simple fact that expecting a group of young 20somethings to enlighten you about what it feels like to grow up is like expecting to glean pearls of wisdom from the Miley Cirus autobiography.
Overall, the premise seems good on paper. Take beloved childhood stories and update them with an adult voice. Avenue Q did a similar thing brilliantly... and in a way that spoke to me long after it was over. But Don't Step on the Cracks suffers from too much content, not enough focus, and no main theme aside from "growing up" which is so diverse a theme that it might be easier to harness the theme "the color blue". Of the 14 scenes a few stories resurface as a developing plot, but the rest are stand-alone pieces.

The Shel Silverstein poem Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too is updated to reflect the three eponymous characters as annoying frat boys who languish about, sleep a lot, whine about how flying around in a shoe isn't as great as they thought it would be, and how the whole world is coming to an end. The ensemble seem to have felt there was enough for 3 separate skits involving this trio which makes me think that at some point this might have been the guts of the show but then somehow they couldn't come up with enough material to flesh it out and the result is this.

Amelia Bedelia (based on the book by Peggy Parish) is there too, taking everything literally as always, only now it's whether or not to believe her fortune cookie and do as it directs. Very promising was a skit based on Puff, the Magic Dragon (song written by Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow and made popular by the group Peter, Paul and Mary) where Puff is being interrogated by police officers and it comes to light that he is a stalker of young boys -- all that frolicking wasn't as innocent as the song made it seemed.

Unfortunately a Goodnight Moon (title taken from the Margaret Wise Brown book) piece which, I'm sure was heartfelt, about a young man recounting the suicide of his young friend seemed 1) misplaced between two funny skits 2) like an acting exercise. ("Tell us about a moment that was painful to you" you can imagine the acting teacher saying). It came out of the blue, almost like a non sequitur, which is unfortunate since under other circumstance it might have been very moving.

Overall there was no (dare I say) rhyme or reason to the 14 skits save one of two criteria 1) be about growing up 2) have a children's book thing in it. I'd have just as easily expected to see some odd boy-monkey hybrid named George chasing around a man in a yellow hat, or a cat in a hat, or an old woman who lives in a shoe. Oh, wait, they already have people living in a shoe.

Past all the children's stories, and the "oh-I'm-a-waitress-and-I-hate-my-job-and-I'm-sad-because-my-cat-died" and the "hey-big-sis-you're-moving-out-when-did-we-get-so-old!" blubbering there was one standout piece that I wish the cast had patterned more of the rest of the show on. A girl and her boyfriend, with the use of 4 other actors acting as all the conflicting voices inside their head, talk through the moments a couple goes through when, after the condom breaks, they flash through what their relationship means, what they silently expect from each other, and what it means for the rest of their relationship. This was the one piece that spoke with a true voice, a unique perspective, and didn't come off as childishly whiny.

It's not that I didn't get what the Five Flights Theater Company ensemble was trying to do with this show. I got it. I got it the way a mom "gets" that she's ruined her daughter's life when she won't let her go meet that "really sweet guy" who propositioned her in an Internet chat room. In other words, yes, little ones, these enormous life lessons you've just learned are enormous. To you. Right now. And I'm sure they've affected you deeply, so you want to write it all down and put it in a play and make it MATTER. But you're not telling me (i.e. the non-college aged audience) anything new, especially not in a way that I haven't heard (or experienced) many times before. Because what this series of skits lacks is the perspective of distance. What the young writers are still finding profound is what everyone else already has an idiom and a shorthand for. Yes, not being carefree anymore is a real bummer (pouty face). But try some more grown up problems on for size in a few years and the ones spouted in Don't Step on the Cracks will sound about as devastating as a kindergartner writing about losing their first box of Crayolas. It's very hard to watch a coming of age show written by people who are still coming of age. These are young twenty somethings who are all discovering hurt, loss, fear of grown-up proportions, and they're having a bit of a mid life crisis over it. Or... what do you call a crisis that happens in the first fourth of your life? If I had to, I'd call it a tantrum.

Ultimately, I think the germs of ideas here were good, and this could have been a lot of fun. But the skits were too diverse, the writing lacked depth, the "ah-ha" moments where more like "yeah, so?" moments. I think the book was better.

The New York International Fringe Festival
Five Flights Theater Company, present
Don't Step On The Cracks
The Connelly Theater

Remaining Performance: Sun, Aug 30th @12pm. For more information visit

The Connelly Theater | 220 East 4th St | Manhattan

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