Good Grief

Waiting: A Play in Phases is the sort of production audiences have come to expect from the New York International Fringe Festival: a short show by a group of thoughtful young artists who want to say something important and have fun while they’re at it. In Waiting, the important subject is grief, and Gia Marotta’s script tackles the weighty topic with welcome whimsy. The project involves three thematically linked segments, the first of which, Vigil, features Erin Maya Darke as Clara, a quirky girl in a funeral home, reading aloud amusing facts about death. Darke’s Clara feels familiar, the kind of teenage girl who draws vampires in the margins of her papers and still get’s A’s on them; her pretense of pained dejection does little to hide her earnestness. That balance is a pleasure to watch, although under the direction of Chloe Bass, the monologue tends toward inappropriate preciousness. Marotta’s script is strong enough for audiences to pick up on the tenderness beneath Clara’s quirky, dispassionate recitation of morbid anecdotes; slowing the pace of her smart thoughts turns them into sugary sanctimony.

Similar preciousness gets in the way of The Vist, the play’s final, most complex phase. It tells the story of Elizabeth, a young woman in deep mourning played by a grounded Jennifer Lauren Brown, as she encounters An Unflappable Bureaucratic Woman, played by an energetically stylized if one-note Jamie Klassel, and the Easter Bunny (Joe Kolbow who, dressed in a full bunny suit and converse sneakers, lends the scene its whimsical warmth). The Bunny and the Bureaucrat hope to sell the bereaved woman her grief in an egg (“there is no shame in commodifying the unfathomable”), but the production’s precious tendencies (tearful inward monologues and dramatically pointed references to mourning) interfere with the script’s whimsy while failing to clearly render its interesting conceit.

The well-placed middle phase, Memorial, is the simplest and strongest of the production: Alexandria LaPorte stands in a spotlight, posed in a black and white polka dot dress, while her prerecorded voice recites a long, bubbly MySpace profile. Partway through the recitation, the light dims and LaPorte exits; her disembodied voice continues its exuberant list of interests. The sharp dramatic realization of seeing a dead friend’s social networking page best embodies the production’s aim of understanding grief in the digital age. It will resonate with audiences who have had that eerie, strangely friendly experience.

Waiting is part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival.

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