The Hub Theatre How I Paid for CollegeBy Genie Baskir • Dec 11th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
The Hub Theatre
John Swazye Theatre, New School of Northern Virginia, Fairfax, VA
Through December 30th, 2012
Reviewed December 7th, 2012
The disappointments and under achievements of the masses have continued through the generations like diseases of the blood as the mid 20th century social experiment of financial cleansing of the cities left contemporary humanity fat, stultified and withdrawn. The nuclear family has been replaced by, well, replacements; and step relations are the norm while intergenerational fellowship is almost nonexistent. The contemporary suburban trinity of conformity, authority and cable television replaced intellectual and artistic challenge while shopping as recreation became mainstream leisure activity. There is simply nothing else to do and the only conceivable object of real monetary value that can be possessed is an old Springsteen guitar pick; and that is not available in any K Mart or Bed, Bath and Beyond.
And so we have the fundament of How I Paid for College, Helen Hayes Award winner Marc Acito’s compact adaptation of his own book for The Hub Theatre. This is not Acito’s first adaptation by The Hub and he may well be on his way to becoming the contemporary Neil Simon as Edward Zanni (Alex Brightman) tries to escape his constipated existence as “The Prisoner of Some Suburb in New Jersey.” Edward is an actor with theatre programmed into the nuclei of his cellular being. All he desires is to take his professional training at Juilliard, a school so enamored of its own self-importance that it charges $50,000.00 a year for its trainees to binge drink in gay bars after Method class. Edward embarks upon a scheme to beg, borrow and steal the $50 grand to at least pay for his first year at Juilliard. Alex yearns to leave his shattered, suburban home and embark upon that great river crossing to reinvent himself in New York as an actor. That is not going to happen but it will take a 75 minute uproarious monologue until he and we find this out.
The story is in the mode of safe TV situation comedies with a touch of “Arrested Development” and plot contrivances left over from “McHale’s Navy.” Though it might be said that Brightman is somewhat derivative of Robin Williams circa 1978, I prefer to think of him as Stephen Mead, a local actor whose ability to play many characters at once makes my own head spin. That being said, however, the show belongs to Director Helen Pafumi who elevates this production from a Chinese menu of comic techniques to a vivid and clever evocation of 21st century desire to escape. Brightman is fast without being frenetic and his physical and vocal changes as he morphs from character to character in this story are disciplined and skillful. Pafumi keeps control of the action as the story gets more absurd and the dénouement slips over us with Brightman in a schvitz and the audience in stitches. The success of this show is grounded in a superb production team and Acito’s non judgmental illustration of the devolution of modern family life and relationships.
Social engineers and planners, encouraged by the transportation and fuel industries, with assistance from the construction trades, decided that the various strata of the middle classes should be moved from cities and bundled in the outlying inner rural areas soon to be called the suburbs. Seventy years of such social restructuring have resulted in a f*cked-upness of several generations so profound that it is now the under classes who are being cleansed from the cities so their financial betters can have its excitement back. Children who have never jaywalked are blinding their parents with fear as they settle into urban dens of multi-family dwelling units and socialize, maybe even cavort with, the poor. This is known as gentrification and Edward’s father’s new neighbors are going to be the exact same folks his grandparents ran away from a generation and a half earlier. The impediment to Edward’s dream of life in The Big Apple is his father, a successful businessman who could pay for Juilliard, but rebuffs his son’s dreams because his own dreams were never pursued; let alone realized. Thus, one f*cked up generation revisits its f*cked-upness on the next because the father cannot neither bear, nor face up to, his own son’s success.
In fact, the father is so incensed by his son’s determination to find happiness in himself that dad orders Edward to leave his home and be taken in by every suburb’s insane Jewish family. This device succeeds because Brightman is every insane Jewish character from the trashy parents to the felonious son to the batty therapist grandmother. Where Brightman succeeds is in conveying Edward’s urgency. It is organic and Acito has drawn these characters well and portrayed the drive that true actors have in them to present an artistic vision whether there is an audience or not. Pafumi keeps everything tight and Brightman under control as he plays every character and advances the narrative. It is a testament to everyone’s skill here that what could have been a hyper active comic audition became instead a delightful repast of comic styles in combination with a contemporary story that is true to any family with artistic and ambitious offspring.
The success of the play itself is in its delicious subversiveness. Underneath the contemporary portraits are Aristotelian buffoons bobbling around, acting atrociously; but never behaving so irredeemably as to be hopeless. But there lies the only negative rub. The narrative tootles along humorously on its way to a successful conclusion when Edward’s hateful father suddenly gets heartwarmingly paternal and affectionate in an almost ruinous architectural misstep that threatens to destroy the farcical arc that seals the play’s bona fides.
We are all players in our own dramas which we live every day. There is no rule that says talent is measured in $50,000.00 increments and successful lives are not predicated on the surfaces of hoity and toity sheepskins. Artists emerge fully formed; their only impediment is inertia.
Don’t be inert. Turn off the cable television and go see this play. Supply your own laugh track.
There are moments in life when we realize anew, that we are greater than the sum of our parts and that our experiences are shaped by those we walk through life with. The moment when we go away to college is one of those definitive times. We break out of the familiar home of our youth and are faced with defining ourselves by new challenges. It’s a treacherous, adventurous time when we are pulled in polar opposite by what we have known and what is yet to come. As we forge ahead, we carry with us the myriad of imprints made by those who have touched our life. How I Paid for College captures all of this.
When Marc pitched the script to me, I was beyond excited. I had been searching for a piece that explored this time in our life. It is something that so many in our community can identify with. How I Paid for College gives us permission to laugh in a big way at how hard it is to grow up, the insanity of college costs, huge dreams and crazy schemes. It has been a joy to work on this play that is so full of hijinks, fun, laughter, honesty, heart, (sic) and theatricality. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Photos by Melissa Blackall Photography
- Eddie: Alex Brightman
- Al Zanni: Alex Brightman
- Dagmar Zanni: Alex Brightman
- Eddie’s Mother: Alex Brightman
- Paula: Alex Brightman
- Natey Nudelman: Alex Brightman
- Natey’s Mother: Alex Brightman
- Stan Nudelman: Alex Brightman
- Nana Nudelman: Alex Brightman
- Nana Nudelman’s Cryent: Alex Brightman
- The Buddha Lady: Alex Brightman
- Juilliard Auditors: Alex Brightman
- The Buddha: not Alex Brightman
- Everyone Else: Alex Brightman
- Director: Helen Pafumi
- Scenic Design: Kristen Morgan
- Lighting Design: Jimmy Lawlor
- Sound Design: Matthew Nielson
- Costume Design: Maria Vetsch
- Stage Management: Rebecca Griffith
Disclaimer: The Hub Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8941.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.