AMERICAN STARE

AMERICAN STARE


Unabashedly opinionated, outlandishly willing to push the envelope of the audience's comfort zone, American Stare is NJ Rep hitting on all cylinders - a little light summer entertainment for the End of the World As We Know It.
-- Asbury Park Press

American Stare is a warm play with hot passions underlying filled with loving and loveable characters. Glazer's ambition and fearlessness are to be admired ... the cast of players breathe life into complicated characters, never losing sight of their humanity, and the artists at NJ Rep have again mounted an intriguing and eloquent play. -- NYTheatre.com

Playwright Tony Glazer convincingly creates this slice of low-life. - Star Ledger

Glazer has a formidable cast of characters in American Stare -- this gritty, well-acted and directed play -- CurtainUp

Evan Bergman has directed his ensemble cast dynamically ... American Stare [is a] thought-provking play -- LINK

Director Evan Bergman keeps this dialogue-rich but surprisingly violent show on a track that's fast and, yes, funny - a pointed parable that seethes with the playwright's projected frustration over an America seemingly lost to the ages.
- Asbury Park Press

[American Stare] comes at a time when our country is battling for its soul and is undergoing profound societal changes whose impact will affect generations.
- LINK

Glazer, Bergman and all the ensemble cast of characters make clear how much they admire "Jonatha" [Becca Ballanger]. So will many who make their way to"American Stare". -- StarLedger

The folks at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch offer up an example of the sort of thing they do better than pretty much anybody else - the kind of darkly comic, devastatingly satirical ensemble piece that other "suburban" companies would hesitate to go near. - APP


Reviewed by Nita Congress · June 14, 2012


Pictured: Trey Gibbons, LeeAnne Hutchison, and Shane Patrick Kearns in a scene from American Stare; photo © SuzAnne Barabas

American Stare is a hard look at a number of conflicts we as a nation are engaged in now: the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. The community versus the corporation. The expedient versus the ethical. The play’s premise—and its conclusion—is not the comfortable, familiar one: that there is no easy answer. Rather, playwright Tony Glazer suggests that the answer lies in savage, swift, decisive action.

Which can be oddly comforting too: a clarion call to take a stand, to make a move, to strike a blow.

This is not in any way to imply that American Stare is an unremitting, bitter polemic. Far from it. This is a warm play, with hot passions underlying, filled with loving and lovable characters. The people who make up the world of American Stare are the marginalized denizens of a southern Florida trailer park—scruffy outcasts to be sure, but the by-products of the American dream: Work hard and you will succeed.

Or not.

Our point of entry into the story is Jonatha Mooney, a budding adolescent on the cusp of the absolutism of childhood and the ambiguities of adulthood. This is nicely symbolized by her beginning each act of the play by making sidewalk chalk sketchings of infinity.

Jonatha believes in community, one for all and all for everyone. And her parents, Allison and Charles, their own relationship threatened by economic insecurity, instill in her, both wittingly and un-, a sense of honor, responsibility, and kinship. The complex characters of her extended family, the other denizens of the trailer park—Clark, a presumed child molester with a keen moral streak, and Margaret, a wise earth mother whose recent bereavement and impoverishment lead her to equivocating compromise that disgusts Jonatha—make for a rich and unexpected set of contrasts.

Catalyzing the action is the outsider, Robert, a slick smart corporate representative, peddling the snake oil of the easy way out to the vulnerable Margaret, whose husband’s death from cancer was likely directly caused by Robert’s company.

The play’s highlights for me were the showdown debates between the polar opposites of Jonatha and Robert. These abound with ringing, zinging statements: “Around here, all we have is community.” “There’s no real money in cures.” It’s an unfair match-up, but Robert admires Jonatha’s spunk and savvy, even while he deplores her naiveté. He jeers, “It takes a village to rape a pygmy.” But he has reckoned without her determination, which is as strong as his own.

The players—Becca Ballenger, Summer Crockett Moore, Trey Gibbons, Brad Holbrook, LeeAnne Hutchison, and Shane Patrick Kearns—breath life into complicated characters, never losing sight of their humanity. And New Jersey Rep and its technicians and artists have again mounted an intriguing and eloquent play, grounding it with a solid set design courtesy of Jessica Parks, naturalistic costumes by Patricia E. Doherty, and realistic light and sound from, respectively, Jill Nagle and John Emmett O’Brien.

Playwright Tony Glazer has perhaps taken on more issues than can be resolved in a single play, but his ambition and fearlessness are to be admired. If you are looking for escapism, this is not the evening’s entertainment for you. But if you are trying to set your heart and mind to the important—indeed, vital—task of grasping the disturbing polarities that increasingly define our American landscape, American Stare affords that opportunity in spades.
 

 

American Dream - or nightmare?

NJ Rep stages a darkly comic 'Stare' into the abyss
Jun 20, 2012
Written by Tom Chesek

 

Brad Holbrook (center) has a proposition for Summer Crockett Moore, as Becca Ballenger looks on in 'American Stare.' / Photo: SuzAnne Barabas

"God Bless America," reads the motel sign that's visible from South Florida trailer park Sunshine Villa. "Defeat the terrorists. Come grill out by our pool."

Every so often, the folks at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch offer up an example of the sort of thing they do better than pretty much anybody else — the kind of darkly comic, devastatingly satirical ensemble piece that other "suburban" companies would hesitate to go near. In Tony Glazer's "American Stare" — currently in its world premiere engagement at NJ Rep — the doublewide duchy of Sunshine Villa is a microcosm for all that's gone cattywampus with the American Dream.


Everybody's business

As framed in the compact set design by Jessica Parks — a claustrophobic version of the Great Outdoors, detailed down to the last plaster gnome, empty "tallboy" and car-seat settee — the "community" is a place where the Terror Alert is always a hot and stifling "orange" — where differences of opinion are hashed out with punches and kicks, and where everybody's business, in every sense of the word, is out there for all to see and hear.

It's there that the good people of Sunshine — including the recently widowed Margaret (Summer Crockett Moore), teenaged neighbor Jonatha (Becca Ballenger) and neighborhood "perv" Clark (Trey Gibbons) while away their back-deck days; whether in anticipation of the escape promised by first-crush romance, or escape from past setbacks by way of the bottle.

This being drama on a trailer-park scale, those setbacks take the shape of Margaret's having lost her husband to radioactive chemical waste, while being saddled with a mountain of debt, a possibly rabid dog and a raccoon's head in her freezer. Clark, meanwhile, is a bag-wearing disability case; an unwitting guest star on TV's "To Catch a Predator" and an unfortunate victim of angry-mob justice at the local Buffet.

It doesn't end there. Jonatha's not-terribly-nurturing home life includes dad Charles (Shane Patrick Kearns), a freshly unemployed construction guy with serious ethnic issues, a possible drinking problem and an in-your-face notion on how to support his family. Mom Allison (LeeAnne Hutchison) is the kind of character that would be described as "sassy" up until the too-frequent points at which she explodes into verbal abuse and outright violence.

It's not exactly an idyllic existence, but whatever delicate balance there is gets thrown off its axis when the Devil enters the scene, in the person of Mr. Stimptner (Brad Holbrook), a very slick and persistent chemical-company representative with a rather strange contract for Margaret to sign. Dripping with the snake-oil undercoating of a thousand televangelists and politicians, the suit-and-tie stranger is a lightning rod for the playwright's palpable anger, and a catalyst for a set of plot points that careen from sitcom surrealism, to straight-to-Redbox horror.

That said, this is no "Squidbillies" cartoon, amped up at the expense of Glazer's fellow South Floridians. His characters wax philosophical (sometimes with a gentle nudge from Mr. Jack Daniel), and show flashes of genuine virtue and wisdom ("It's always the good ones who have it hardest…in the end they're the ones who keep us honest") — although even the smartest among them (that would be Jonatha) is not immune to impulsive decisions that pack a wallop of consequences.

Hard-working cast

Director Evan Bergman, who's shown such a sure hand in the past with such dynamically complex ensemble shows as "Jericho," keeps this dialogue-rich but surprisingly violent show on a track that's fast and, yes, funny — turning what could have been one of the "jokes with no punchlines" that Jonatha enjoys into a pointed parable that seethes with the playwright's projected frustration over an America seemingly lost to the ages. The entire cast of Rep newcomers works hard, stays on message and puts it all across with bracingly salty language that still won't fly in the proverbial family newspaper.

Of course, any playwright worth his pillar of salt knows that a loaded gun (or its proxy) introduced at the play's outset must go off by the end, and if the Devil's going to walk among us, then the Devil must get his due — namely, the best speech in the play. It's a task that Holbrook is more than equal to in his tense second-act scene with Ballenger; a harrowing sermon on the State of the Union that could only climax with a splatter (no less effective even if you see it coming). Only the final line of the show's denouement — the kind of sickly-sweet thought that would be skewered and hung out to dry on "Family Guy" — smells fishy in the context of all that's come before.

Unabashedly opinionated, outlandishly willing to push the envelope of the audience's comfort zone, "American Stare" is NJ Rep hitting on all cylinders — a little light summer entertainment for the End of the World As We Know It.


 

Trailer park life

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2012, 6:53 AM

By Peter Filichia/For The Star-Ledger


 
Summer Crockett Moore, Brad Holbrook, Becca Ballenger in a scene from "American Stare" at NJ Rep.

It's a rare play in which a man has had his manhood removed by angry vigilantes.

But if any theater in the state is going to produce such a work, it will be New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The scripts it routinely mounts are so edgy that the actors must get paper cuts just reading them.

To be fair, "American Stare," the latest hard-hitting drama, only uses that vigilante victim as a minor character. Clark Felix mostly sits in front of his Florida trailer park home, complaining a good deal and giving unsolicited opinions to other residents.

These include Charles Mooney, who's been fired as a construction laborer because of nepotism and racism. That he's standing around complaining instead of heading to unemployment infuriates his wife, Allison.

A theatergoer mourns that young Jonatha has been born into this family. She's such a bright girl, who takes an interest in local politics and state laws. Jonatha will even be helpful to Margaret, their neighbor, who now may get an unexpected windfall, thanks to Robert, a visiting city slicker.

Trailer park residents know down deep that there's no such thing as a free snack, let alone a free lunch. So does playwright Tony Glazer, who convincingly creates this slice of low-life. Director Evan Bergman has his cast continue to talk matter-of-factly when a brutal dogfight occurs, or a police siren pierces the air.

"That's why we all have to stick together" is the party line for this quintet. Trouble is, Jonatha believes it and interprets it too literally for everyone's taste. The residents of the "Sunshine Villa" will do anything for money — because they've been left little choice.

"American Stare" seems to start out as a satire, but both Glazer and Bergman care too much about these people to mock them. What's miraculous is that there are no over-the-top performances here to elicit cheap laughs. When the two women trade notes about life, it's an honest conversation, spoken at real-life pitch. There's the sincerity that good friends have when making their bond stronger. Bless Summer Crockett Moore and LeeAnne Hutchison for respectively bringing such integrity to Margaret and Allison. When Charles and Clark get together, they too reveal more about themselves than they might have anticipated. Shane Patrick Kearns excels as Charles, trying to find his emotions as best he can. And as Clark — whose neck is as red as the Coca-Cola T-shirt he wears — Trey Gibbons does exceedingly well. Gibbons displays the nervousness of one who knows that such a conversation is beyond his reach. He knows that he may be too stupid to understand what Charles means, and hopes he can keep up.

And Jonatha is marvelously portrayed by Becca Ballenger. She can give a sharp retort when it's called for, but she'd just as soon be nice to everyone. To watch Ballenger try to maintain her composure when events conspire against Jonatha makes for a heartbreaking performance.

Glazer, Bergman and all the characters make clear how much they admire Jonatha. So will many who make their way to "American Stare."

 

 

Summer Crockett Moore as "Margaret" has some sage advice for young "Jonatha" (Becca Ballenger) who looks on in 'American Stare.' / Photo: SuzAnne Barabas

LINK NEWS -Theatre review

Comedy takes unblinking look at American society
ByMadeline Schulman

American Stare by Tony Glazer is billedas a“ferocious new comedy.” The ferocityoutweighs the comedy in thisthought-provoking play.

There are humorous situations andfunnylines. Clark Felix (Trey Gibbons), anaccused pedophile, says he wasunfairly blamed because of his dyslexia. He thought his online date was 31not13. Margaret Bowie (Summer CrockettMoore) offers to make her neighbors a“bacon fluffer-nutter quiche.” But theselaughable moments are offset by manyopportunities to reflect on the difficultyof life in modern America,particularly the struggle between community andsolitary greed.

Jonatha Mooney (Becca Ballenger) isanidealistic teenager (her exact age, perhaps deliberately, is ambiguous). Shefervently believes that community is moreimportant than individual gain.Herparents, Charles (Shane Patrick Kearns) and Allison (LeeAnne Hutchison)arebalanced on a financial knife edge, so that Charles losing his job is causeforimmediate panic.

Life has been hard for Charles. Welearn in his second act monologue that hebecame a father at 16, and has alwaysstruggled at menial jobs. Margaret’s husband has died of cancer causedby alethal chemical, and she is struggling to make ends meet with onlyherincreasingly irascible dog for family. Clark Felix has been physically andmentally destroyed by an angry crowdafter being singled out by “To Catch APredator.”

Into this community of damaged soulscomesRobert Stimptner (Brad Holbrook) looking sharp and prosperous in his nicesuit,offering Margaret $200,000 for the rights to her DNA. Jonatha, who looksto Margaret for moral guidance, finds sinister clausesin the contract, and tries to talk Margaret out of the deal. The most thought-provokingscene is between Jonathan d Mr. Stimptner, as she tries to justify her view ofa world as unified as the lemniscates she loves to draw in chalk (thelemniscates resemble the symbol for infinity, prompting the skeptical Clark toask why infinity can’t get its own symbol instead of turning8 sideways), and hefights back with his vision of a world destroyed by the absence of war and bigbusiness.

The dialogue is reminiscent of thescene between the military industrialist Andrew Undershaft and his daughter inShaw’s Major Barbara, written in 1907. Things have not changed much in 105years.

The scenery by Jessica Parks is a marvelousvocation of Sunshine Villa, the rundown trailer-park complete with abandoned carseat and many beer bottles. Evan Bergman has directed so dynamically that I wassurprised there was no coordinator listed for the fight scenes.

 

 

 

Play asks political questions by looking at lower-class life

Published: Friday, June 08, 2012, 7:50 AM

By Peter Filichia/For The Star-Ledger


 
From left, Trey Gibbons, LeeAnne Hutchison and Shane Patrick Kearns co-star in the dark comedy "American Stare," at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

The Garden State Turnpike.

It's the road that Evan Bergman says he takes from his New York City home when he drives to New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

When his mistake is pointed out to him, Bergman is quite embarrassed and quick to compensate. "Exit 105, Route 36, take a right onto Broadway."

Well, one might expect a director to know directions. And Bergman has directed quite a few shows at the tiny theater at 179 Broadway. They include "Jericho," one of the theater's biggest hits, which moved to New York. Now, Bergman takes on Tony Glazer's new "American Stare."

The dark comedy "takes a look at the lower-class citizens who have been pushed to the side — the common people who try to be self-reliant as the world tries to run them over," he says.

Five of the six people that theatergoers meet live in a trailer park. There's a mother who works in a convenience store, a father who is a construction laborer and their teenage daughter.

In addition, there's the neighbor who drinks too much and a widow who is having a hard time dealing with creditors since her husband died.

"Then there's Robert, a businessman who drops by," says Bergman. "Let's just say he has an agenda."

Bergman says that what he studied at the University of Colorado has genuinely helped him with this play. And while one might assume that means theater, it doesn't.

"I was actually a political science major," he says, sounding a bit astonished that he was ever in that academic circle. "This play certainly makes us ask questions about government and politics. Even more, though, political science allowed me to have an overview of the disenfranchised."

Bergman can trace the roots of his social consciousness to one of the first plays he ever saw: "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men," a 1969 drama about lower-class blacks who hang out in a barber shop.

"I was only about 11 years old," he says. "The Negro Ensemble Company brought the show to our local library and just did a few scenes from it. I liked it so much that I asked my parents to take me. And they did."

It changed his life — although political science did seem like a more secure route. But Bergman was soon finding himself acting here and there.

Then, a few years after he graduated from college, he went to see a few friends who had a restaurant at the Jane Street Hotel in Lower Manhattan.

"And what I found was the ballroom where the survivors of the Titanic had been taken had been turned into a theater," he says. "It hadn't been used for years, so I got this idea in my head that it could be revived."

It was, and so was his theatrical career — but this time as a director.

"I even directed a play called 'The Director,' " he says.

And now, "American Stare."

"The title refers to the glazed look people have on their faces when they believe they're going nowhere," he says.

Meanwhile, Bergman is hoping that the facial expressions of those in the audience will change from apathetic to involved before Glazer's play ends.