Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Row After Row" Is Billed as Dark Comedy

By Sallicio (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Civil War was about a lot of things.

It was not primarily about equaility as Jessica Dickey seems to suggest in "Row After Row," a Women's Project Theatre production at City Center's Stage II through February 16th. Mostly the war between the states was a horrific slaughter, made more awful because it pitted a once united people against each other.

It's hard to say what motivates anyone to want to re-enact these battles. In "Row After Row," the motives vary. Tom (Erik Lochtefeld) is a history teacher/nerd/buff. He and Cal (PJ Sosko) are both Gettysburg natives. Leah (Rosie Benton) is new in town and thought this might be a way to get to meet.

Clearly, it's an intense experience for all three of the protagonists.

As directed by Daniella Topol, "Row After Row," transitions smoothly but jarringly from the present day back to the scene of the battle in 1863. Clint Ramos' costumes and sets -- the scenery is strictly minimalist-- with a mostly bare stage edged all around by fallen timbers-- are arresting. The stage design plays more towards the tragic, however, while the text is a sloppy mix of romance, comedy and pagentry.

Rosie benton has exhibited charm in roles at the Mint Theatre and Broadway's "Stick Fly" in the past several years. Here she can't help but be affable even when she's cornered into gratuitous silliness about "history" being "his story." That is not to say she doesn't embody called for fiereceness as Leah. Erik Lochtefeld is a wimpy and harrowed intellectual. His Tom dithers and vacilates, telling a truth about the uneven sweep of history. PJ Sosko's Cal, on the other hand, is a doer. His sensitive good old boy with a platinum heart is compelling. "I did not see that coming," Leah says when he waxes sophisticate.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the talent in "Row After Row," the play is an unsatisfying work. It's neither fish nor fowl, as drama and tragedy lurk in the Civil War flashbacks, while touches of "meet cute" infect the post reenactment drinks at the tavern.

The distraction of having "trauma dogs" in the first row, practically participating in the play's proceedings, is unhelpful to the play's cause.

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