MARK SAVITT AND EVA HEINEMANN REVIEW
ALEX AND EUGENE
Isle of Shoals Productions
Book, Music and Lyrics by Bryan Williams
Directed by Justy Kosek
Choreography by Alex Johnson
Scenic Designer: Jennilee Aromando
Lighting Designer: Asa Lipton
Costume Designer: Heather Carey
Prop Master: Emma Freeman
Musical Direction / Arrangements: Bryan Williams
Jae Shin as Alex
Joseph Mace as Prof / Him / Reporter / Father
Rori Nogee as Mother / Her/ Interviewer
Anna Stefanic as Tanya
Reggie Herold as Eugene
Brittany Zeinstra as Esme
Noah Pyzik as Brandon / Chuck
Katherine Leidlein as Janie / Lana
Aja Downing as Cassandra / Dorienne
MARK SAVITT: Bryan Williams' ALEX AND EUGENE follows a group of recent theater arts graduates trying to make it in NYC. Eugene (Reggie Herold) is an outgoing actor who befriends the show's narrator , Alex (Jae Shin), an introverted wanna be musical writer working on adapting Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin". Also in the group is Janie (Katherine Leidlein) in love with gay Brandon (Noah Pyzik), Alex's twin sister Tanya (Anna Stefanic), and Cassandra (Aja Downing), a political activist. A late comer to the group is Esme (Brittany Zeinstra) with whom Alex is smitten although she is more in love with ambition for fame, and is clearly attracted to Eugene. When a producer notices Eugene in the group's web series, he has a chance for fame which will alter the relationships in the group.
As the play progresses, affinities with Pushkin's tragic romance become more apparent. The song, "Night After Night" which Tanya and Eugene share echoes Tatiana's letter scene and Onegin's belated response. Alex writes an aria for Lenski, Onegin's friend. A gun and jealousy loom here like the duel in Pushkin.
The music is genuinely engaging, and the story of youthful aspirations coming up against the harshness of the show business world has much of the poignancy of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along".
Alex, Eugene, and Tanya are fully rounded characters that we can care deeply about. The performers are wonderful as well. Reggie Herold conveys the energy, self-confidence, and easy affability of Eugene. Jae Shin makes us believe in the troubled Alex. Anna Stefanic gives Tanya both strength and vulnerability. Brittany Zeinstra lets us see Esme's surface allure as well as her inner trashiness.
Still, at almost three hours this play is way too long. Although the performers Joseph Mace and Rori Nogee as Alex and Tanya's parents are fine, their scenes are labored and unneeded. The wooden boards that serve as both benches and inclines are nifty, but so much time is wasted moving them around. Surely a better design scheme can be found.
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed this show very much and was impressed by its ambition and achievement.
EVA HEINEMANN: I'd just seen "Pushkin" and the premise of "Eugene Onegin" which I am unfamiliar with, intrigued me. Mark explained the connections to me afterwards but it was unnecessary as the story was straightforward and very clear. (Typical Russian plot of misguided people in love with the wrong people and suffering for it). This worked very well with young actors, as that sort of thing happens all the time in theater where there is such close proximity.
Like Mark, I was impressed by the actors. Normally I don't like narrative plots but with Jae Shin at the helm I was in a constant state of wanting to know more about everyone. It reminded me of when I was younger at the Edinburgh Festival back in 1988. The situations and relationships all seemed believable to me and the music enhanced the story mightily. While all the voices were terrific, Joseph Mace with his opening introductory song was quite magnificent. I could listen to an entire CD of his voice.
Reggie Herold had this puppy dog buff arrogance that came across so well which is why he influenced everyone around him. Brittany Zeinstra builds up to that selfish woman you love to hate. Noah Pyzik is everyone's favorite campy BFF and one can see his appeal for Katherine Leidlein who is more optimistic than delusional and they make such a perky pair in their musical number "Not My Gay Best Friend". Anna Stefanic tries to remain calm in the maelstrom of emotions. Aja Downing got to be angry activist and snooty Brit and she carried them off both beautifully. Mark may have felt Rori Nogee as the Mom was superfluous but it helped us understand Alex and Tanya better. Plus she got to play more than one part to move the plot along.
There were a few directorial flaws which I'm sure were fixed as we saw it in preview and it did have a few false ending feelings but then so does an Alain Resnais film. Despite all that I couldn't see where they could cut it or end it any better. Even though you kinda knew where it was heading, I was still moved by the end.
CLOSES SEPTEMBER 2ND
Wed-Sat evenings 7:30pm;
Sat matinee 2:00pm;
Sun matinee 3:00pm
photos by Greg Callan