Inspired by true events experienced by literary agent, author and playwright Richard Curtis, Quiet Enjoyment is a lighthearted comedy about a stressful experience: the title transfer of a New York City co-op. As part of a bruising divorce settlement, Peter Chasen is signing over his $5M apartment to his ex-wife Juliana for $1. It’s the first closing conducted by Meredith Cudlip and she wants it to be perfect. With all her preparation, the transaction should flow and take approximately 20 minutes. Instead, a series of events conspire to drag out the proceedings, leading to heated exchanges, underhanded dealing, and a few sexy memories.
The idea for this work percolated in Curtis’s mind for a number of years before being committed to paper. The good news is that you are almost certain to laugh during the nearly 100 minutes of runtime. Curtis has seemingly taken informal lessons from a number of masterful sources including Noel Coward’s witty banter and Groucho Marx’s physical shtick. The drawback to this approach of blending comedic styles is they don’t tickle the same funny bones. At any given point, a third of the audience is having a blast while the remainder sit stone faced. Judging from the lopsided reaction, the most divisive element is Megan Simard’s Karma. While Ms. Simard commits her heart and soul and several other flexible body parts to the role, she can’t bring her lines above the level of hippy chick caricature. The character doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the piece any more than Karma’s wild presence fits the tightly controlled proceedings. Her presence literally in the middle of the conference table pushes the needle from humorous to absurd.
On the other end of the creative spectrum is Samantha Mercado Tudda’s Meredith Cudlip. Ironically nicknamed Merry, she’s an anal-retentive and ambitious associate who makes zany entertainment spring from dry real estate language. More broad but equally skillful is Paula Gates who takes on the roles of Peter’s harried assistant Tammy and Meredith’s overbearing boss, Martha Pusey. Though the actress plays both similarly, the stand-up comedy chops she displays in her first scene elicit a special round of applause when she makes her second entrance. (Someone needs to get this women her Equity Card pronto.) At Friday’s performance, Jamie Lee Kearns was suffering from laryngitis. She might consider vocal lessons to retain that Demi Moore-esque purr which further enhanced her interpretation of Peter’s competent and sexy ex Juliana. As for Peter himself, Mark A Daly has great timing but doesn’t project the magnetism that would more obviously stir so many loins. Kris Paredes and Mario Claudio round out the cast as Jules’s sister, confident and lawyer, Dana and Peter’s obnoxious lawyer with bladder issues, Abraham Bimsky. (If it isn’t obvious from this paragraph, playwright Curtis has a particular flair with names.)
Director Marcus Gualberto does a fine job with the rapidly moving exchanges, especially given the confined space. He is aided in making the most of the 62 seat house by choreographer Ruth Guimerà. The versatile Mercado Tudda also provided the appropriate costumes. Lighting is employed to highlight areas of the set where physical barriers (doors, partitions etc.) would likely be used for a rendition with a bigger budget.
A shaker full of delicious ingredients that don’t quite blend, Quiet Enjoyment is a pleasant enough diversion for $25. Richard Curtis certainly has an ear for comedy and his dedicated cast makes the most of what’s on the page. This production is registered with the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. It plays through November 3 at the Playroom (151 West 46th Street, between 6th and 7th) on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7PM with a special performance on Monday, October 28. Tickets are available at https://QuietEnjoyment.BrownPaperTickets.com and by calling 1-800-838-3006. In person purchases may be made at the theater half hour prior to performance.
Get ready to go toe to toe with two terrific actors in the fast moving and highly entertaining Square Go. (A “Square Go” is a Scottish term for an all-out fist fight.) Max has made an unfortunate remark that received the wrong kind of attention from local bully-in-chief Danny Guthrie. Now he’s been challenged to fight it out in the playground. Max’s best friend, the affable and slightly dim Stevie, stands firmly at his friend’s back But his support will be limited to the moral kind. The audience is therefore invited to participate in Max’s preparation for an almost certain pummeling at Danny’s bigger and more experienced hands. As we contribute our cheers and a hand or two, we learn the key turning points that led to this undesirable moment in Max’s short life.
Several components put this slice-of-life tale in a class above most two-handers. The writing by Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair is poignant, humorous, and well edited. Both Daniel Portman (Poderick Payne on Game of Thrones) and Gavin Jon Wright (Black Watch with the National Theatre of Scotland) turn in wonderfully layered performances. Wearing boxing shorts and tank tops which fully display bodies that obviously did not just emerge from the New York Sports Club next door to the theater, they perfectly capture the awkwardness of their youthful characters.
What stands out even more is the viewpoint, with the action moving seamlessly from a school, to various locations around small-town Scotland, to inside the characters’ heads, to inside the theater. The entire creative process used to tell the story is imaginative and well executed. The setting is a simple square imbedded on the floor. The rest of the background is filled in with a soundscape and lighting. The lights designed by Peter Small, props developed by Martha Mamo, and original soundtrack provided by members of Frightened Rabbit are integral to Wright’s remarkable portrayal of multiple characters. Portman has the tougher job of bringing variation to the more straightforward role of the downtrodden Max.
Daniel Portman and Gavin Jon Wright in SQUARE GO. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Director Finn Den Hertog, who won a Scotsman Fringe First Awards for this production, has staged the entire piece within the square with the audience on all four sides just like a wrestling arena. The energy builds from the close proximity and the physical containment of the actors. The players’ interactions with the audience — which can often be awkward — are carefully crafted and skillfully managed. There’s no room for bad moods or poor sportsmanship from the crowd. You’ll be required to keep your feet out of their space and your head in their game.
Arriving at a time when toxic masculinity is being reevaluated by all genders, Square Go presents a universal story in a singular fashion. Though the details of Max’s journey may be particular to him, the experience of trying to find one’s place in the world is one that everyone can understand. Performances run through June 30 in Theater C at 59E59. Tickets are $25 ($20 for members) and seating is general admission. Running time is 60 minutes, with no intermission. To purchase or for more information, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit www.59e59.org.