By Donna Herman
The Corkscrew Theater Festival, dedicated to supporting early-career theater artists, is having its inaugural season this summer in New York City. Ex Habitus, which opened on August 23rd and runs through September 3rd, is one of 5 full length productions being showcased, and 5 readings. Written by Lilla Goettler and Katie Hathaway, and directed by Lilla Goettler as well, Ex Habitus tells the story of millennial friends who become rivals in the podcast wars for listeners ears.
One set of podcasters, Holly (Jill Shackner) and Miles (Alexander Katz), are closeted brother and sister, heirs to a manners dynasty, and paid by its foundation to make manners matter to millennials. Their good friends, Jen (Renee Rises) and Ben (Derek Christopher Murphy) are a married couple with an acknowledged open relationship who give advice to people on their podcast about matters sexual. Both pairs are sponsored by the same broadcaster, Blue in the Face. Ben and Jen have an established, successful, popular show that is growing wildly. But there seem to be cracks in their relationship. Holly and Miles have just started their podcast and it’s off to a slow start. They are worried that their show will be cancelled, and their absurdly high salaries cut off.
Goettler and Hathaway have the germ of a good idea in Ex Habitus, and they even have some good scenes and dialog. What they don’t have is something to say about what they’re presenting. They don’t have a play. They have some sketches that don’t go anywhere, and don’t have any insight or viewpoint into the characters or the situation. There’s plenty of topical humor, but it doesn’t reveal much of anything to anyone. It’s all foam and no foie gras.
That said, there is some excellent work here. The standout in the cast is Jill Shackner’s Holly. She is relaxed and believable at every moment as the domineering, but beguiling, lipstick lesbian who is in control at every turn. And the costume designer, Nell Simon, has done a superb job of putting each character into outfits that perfectly tell us who they are.
My suggestion to The Corkscrew Theater Festival for next year, would be to insist that the productions use a seasoned dramaturg as part of the collaborative process they champion. And I would also suggest that early-career playwrights be discouraged from directing their own work. Not that it can never work, but having an unbiased, fresh pair of eyes on a work, can allow what is actually there, rather than what a writer thinks is there (or not there) to be revealed. We all know that when you’re too close to something, the old “can’t see the forest for the trees” phenomenon takes place.
Ex Habitus By Lilla Goettler and Katie Hathaway, Directed by Lilla Goettler
WITH: Emma Hathaway (Callie); Alexander Katz (Miles); Derek Christopher Murphy (Ben); Renee Rises (Jen); Jill Shackner (Holly)
Set Design by Isabel Nelson, Lighting Design by Charlotte Seelig; Costume Design by Nell Simon; Sound Design and Original Music by Benjamin Weiner; Stage Manager, Maddy Cohen; Asst. Stage Manager, Julia Brunner; Producer, Dana Jones. Presented by the Corkscrew Theater Festival at the Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street, through September 3rd. For tickets: https://www.artful.ly/the-brewing-dept/store/events/12139