Review by Kathleen Campion

Joe Casey (L) as a soft-core porn filmmaker and Steph Van Vlack (R) as his ex-babysitter in In "Allen Wilder 2.0," written and directed by Matt Morillo, presented by Theater for the New City January 7 to 31, 2016. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Sometime in the 1970s, in a white, middle-class town on Long Island, a teenaged Donna (Steph Van Vlack) used to babysit for Michael (Joe Casey), a prepubescent boy who lived just across the street.

In adulthood, she stayed on Long Island while he fled to LA.   Neither got what they chased.

She had wanted marriage and a family but she’d had two daughters and a midlife crisis blooming, before she noticed her husband was an asshole.  He had aspired to artful filmmaking, but settled into soft-core filmmaking, a world with many perks but little dignity.

As the play opens, he’s back on Long Island to close up the family house.  They enter, stage right, in an awkward parody of the familiar scene of a man and a woman all over one another.  They cannot get the door closed behind them, nor their clothes dispatched, fast enough.  The scene is a film-and-television cliché, to be sure, but director and playwright Matt Morillo gives us a far more credible version of how that scene really plays: awkwardly, without a choreographer.   After all, live theater is just a one-camera shoot.

Next, there is the will-she-or-won’t-she scene.  I sympathized with Donna’s insecurities—she is fifty to his forty; she is overweight and all too aware of her body’s childbearing battle scars.  Add to that, he works in porn, surrounded by nothing-but-nubile AND they’ve just left the pert-breasted competition of the young waitress in the bar.  Still, this scene, even for the sympathetic older woman in the audience, goes on forever.

They do get naked and then again clothed.  She wants to talk about it again.  See what I mean?

In the afterglow of their passion,  Michael’s  21-year-old, bi-racial niece, the daughter of his angry sister, bangs into the house.  Kayla (Becca Fox) is both outraged and grossed out.  Fox has a lot of presence and authority; eventually she lets us glimpse Kayla’s vulnerability.

“Donna,” Steph Van Vlack’s character, is all vulnerability with a dash of rage and wariness.  Her “Donna” is not so much nuanced as erratic; she is working hard to right her ship as middle age and recrimination fight with her better angels.

Joe Casey’s (Michael) credit list is thin at this point, but won’t be for long.  Besides serious acting chops, he brings a rich, disarming voice; it’s “down there where the money is,” as Bing Crosby liked to say.  His voice sometimes lends sway to otherwise fatuous lines.

“Michael” has some answers when it comes to life’s great questions—rather facile ones, but answers nonetheless.  He’s learned, as we all must, that all the small concessions, the accommodations, the get-by moments, the self-serving decisions, eventually take a toll that leads to the realization that you are not now, nor are you likely to become, a rock star.

Casey’s character is sort of stuck explaining life’s disappointments and traps to his ‘sitter’ and his niece.  Van Vlack’s walled into the Rapunzel role, awaiting rescue.  Fox’s character is all hopey-changey, though all she need aspire to is a modest re-boot of her mother.

The two leads are still stumbling on a line here and there; the ‘niece’ needs a little more to do to replace her put-upon sighing; and the script, while reaching for significant aha moments, is stuck in a single message:This is how life has mistreated us and we was robbed!

All that said, bundling into one of New York’s scrappy off-off-Broadway houses to sit in the dark and watch three people become three other people—delivering a reasoned view of the world from a skilled playwright/director —what’s not to like?  If you are a fan of theater on the margins (which is not to say edgy theater)—this is a good candidate.

Allen Wilder 2.0 – Written and directed by Matt Morillo.

WITH: Joe Casey (Michael), Steph Van Vlack (Donna), and Becca Fox (Katla).

Designed by Mark Marcante; lighting by Amith A. Chandrashaker; produced by Joanne Hartstone; presented by Theater for the New City, Crystal Field, executive director.  At TNC, 155 1st Avenue, Manhattan through January 31st.  Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes with one intermission.