by Margret Echeverria
The prologue of WHAT ELSE IS TRUE? directed by Jake Beckhard and Adam Coy is excruciatingly slow. An improv troup is performing in a vacuum. Tonight’s audience suggestion is “ketchup” and the speed of the low stakes scene matches Heinz 57 opened for the first time and held perpendicular to a juicy burger. But then, to our delight, the show improves. I have never met the playwrite, David Rosenberg, but my date and I wonder if he was a mouse in the corner when our former lives were all about our improv company. The show is refreshingly written and acted so honestly that it might be too painful if it weren’t so often very funny. What is further genius is that parts of the show are not written at all. Rather, they are totally improvised.
From the vacuum we arrive at the rehearsal space where the college troupe has taken on a new member, Miles (Sam Gonzalez), to replace a charter member, Mike (Dylan Guerra) who, you guessed it, went to study in Africa. Gonzalez is that sweet new kid who is sexually ambiguous distracting others from that mystery by seeking nourishing praise for his talent. He gets well fed, but he is not perfect, we discover, when he rehearses a bit of Chekhov with Rebecca (Serena Berman) in a scene that bubbles with naivitee dancing on our giggles. Berman perfectly embodies the artist who has to work so hard to survive that the art gets very little of the time left after her double shifts at Starbucks. Jamie (Adam Langdon) and Samira (Olivia AbiAssi) are the leaders of the group by habit that becomes tired tradition. AbiAssi moves her body like a noodle and is almost always smiling, which makes for great sexual tension between her and Langdon who meets her physical ease with endearing awkwardness and an annoying quest to be the cool improv expert.
We are charmed by Jeanna (Ema Zivkovic) who has some of the most outrageously funny lines – often spicy – that lightly veil a huge emotional
vulnerability. Jeanna hangs tight with Zeke (Jawuan Hill), but Zeke misinterprets this connection and Zivkovic and Hill become all of us in our youth when we realize we had a fantasy about our relationship with someone that does not match up with reality at all. Trigger warning: You will feel that loneliness all over again. These kids are chasing an elusive spark on the stage, while learning that life is also winging it and love stays only in an open-handed grasp.
A scene on the rooftop imagines the group’s brilliant futures and evokes our laughter and more than a few tears as we mourn the idealism of youth. They don’t know yet that what we plan in our twenties almost never happens.
My date’s and my friendship endured. He was my best person at my wedding. But many beloveds of our old troup we have not heard from in more than twenty years. We left the theatre with wounds slightly reopened and bathed in a honey balm of nostalgia. And I must mention the epilogue explodes with so much improv wizardry that it makes any of the slow bits totally forgiveable.
WITH Olivia AbiAssi (Samira), Serena Berman (Rebecca), Dylan Guerra (Mike), Sam Gonzalez (Miles), Jawaun Hill (Zeke), Adam Langdon (Jamie), Ema Zivkovic (Jeanna) and special guest, Ed Herbstman (Shaun).
Scene design, Lindsay Fuori ; costume design, Olivia Vaughn Hern; lighting design Paige Seber; sound and video, Art Kopischke; stage management, Emily Bubeck; production manager, Sydney Prince ; and assistant stage manager, Alix Livermore.
Through August 26 at A.R.T./New York Theatre’s Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre, which is located at 502 W 53rd St in Manhattan. The performance schedule is Tuesday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets, which start at $25, can be purchased at www.eggandspoontheatre.org. Standard ticketing fees apply.