Sometimes we need a reminder that, no matter how different we all may seem, on some level we’re all in the same boat.
Billed as “an evening of monologues about our romance with money,” the two-hour performance — at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville — is the work of 11 playwrights and the entire Axial company, comprising actors, directors and writers devoted to creating new works.
As Axial artistic director Howard Meyer writes in the program, these are monologues — long speeches by one person during a conversation — not soliloquys — the act of speaking aloud when alone, to oneself or a Higher Power.
To dramatize the difference, Meyer and fellow directors Laura Credidio and Rachel Jones fill the hall with actors to flesh out these solitary speeches. Some of these extra characters even speak themselves.
It’s a wholly satisfying evening of theater full of those all-in-the-same-boat reminders, given in tightly written but well wrought slices of life, none of which is longer than 15 minutes long.
Haven’t we all had to talk to a boss about the salary we expect?
Matt Hoverman’s “The Negotitation” tackles that situation with a funny, clever and touching script expertly handled on all fronts by actress Heather Nicolson.
June has cloistered herself in her room, not far enough from the blaring slugfest of daytime TV that occupies her unemployed husband. She needs this job, but the money has to be right.
Sure, it’s funny to watch June practice the call, pretending a hairbrush is the phone. But Hoverman, Nicolson and director Meyer invest us in what happens to June. When she finally dials the phone to have the all-important conversation, we’re on her side. There’s a lump in our throats.
In the end, that roller-coaster of worry, need, and frenetic vulnerability pays off as Hoverman mines a deeper truth about worth, esteem and, yes, even bravery.
The three directors guide the cast through the pieces with pace, energy and focus.
At last night’s first preview, some pieces seemed more polished than others.
The frantic torrent of words in “RSVP,” Katie Atcheson’s excellent take on bridal-shower guilt, seemed to get the better of Aisling Mulhern at times.
Likewise, some of Carol Marks’ funny writing in “The Pitch” — in which a marketing wiz tries to get a priest to increase his “pew load” through social networking — was lost in Mark Gorham’s rapid-fire delivery.
Anne Lilley’s command for her lines made for a few uneasy moments in Meyer’s “Calculus.”
But there were many highlights here, including the evening’s longest piece, Ryan Mallon’s “I Wanna Go Home,” and its shortest piece, Linda Giuliano’s “Calling to You.”
Mallon’s speech, about a particularly bad string of days, was acted by the playwright and directed by Meyer. With just a few lines, Ryan Shams added greatly as Hector, the rent-a-car guy who comes to pick Mallon up. The writing was real and honest and Meyer’s staging, carrying Mallon throughout the hall, made the best use of the space.
Guiliano’s piece, the final work of the evening, delivered with pitch-perfect timing by Ann Gulian, was straightforward and affecting, eliciting more than a few sniffles in the audience.
Linda Giuliano’s darkly comic “Rent Stabilized” gave Ward Riley the chance to play an unctuous real estate agent with designs on an apartment.
Tony Howarth’s “The Floo” found Mallon as a sort of slacker student, answering the essay question: “If I had a million dollars …”
Gabrielle Fox’s “The Interview” trod much the same ground as “The Negotiation,” but added the element of history between interviewer and interviewee. As Brenda Land, Gulian was an effective jumble of emotions, at times giddy, seductive and ever vulnerable.
Axial took some chances in staging these pieces.
For one thing, they divided the seating into four distinct areas and set the action throughout the church hall. This certainly brought the actors closer to the audience, but also made for moments when the action was taking place behind some audience members.
Word of advice: The best seats, it seems, are either directly across from the theater entrance or to the right as you enter.
Another risk, one that paid off magnificently, was filling in the frames of each monologue by adding extra characters.
Nowhere was this more successful than in Jessica Dickey’s outrageous “The Currency of Youth,” about a half-time pep talk that veers to the incredibly personal.
Playing to the female members of the company dressed as high-school basketball players, Gail Greenstein goes all out as Coach Starr, a menacing mix of wisdom, bitterness and bad knees that came from her devotion to defense.
Greenstein is a revelation, proof that strong material in the right hands can soar. There’s never a moment where she lets down. She commands the stage.
There were reminders of the times in which we live: John Kuebler’s “Frugal Bastard” was set in “The Great Recession (Now.)”
All in that same boat.
“For the Love of Money: An Evening of Monologues About Our Romance with Money”
When: Weekends through 23. 8 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays.
Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church, 8 Sunnyside Ave., Pleasantville.
Tickets: $20, $15 for students and seniors. Tickets for May 15 gala reception and show are $45 (at 914-286-7680).
Call: 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.
Photo by Mark Vergari/The Journal News: Heather Nicolson as June Halston in Matt Hoverman’s “The Negotiation.”