IATI Theater

One Man’s Treasure

As the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” So it is in Storage Locker, a black satire riffing on A&E’s reality show Storage Wars. Written by Jeff Stolzer, the play is often quite funny, with expressive banter between a husband and wife who secure the winning bid on an abandoned storage unit. Stolzer is a clever writer. In Storage Locker he develops interesting and layered characters, intricately weaving them into shifts in time. Bryn Packard and Nicole Betancourt, who play the husband and wife, deliver the dialogue with velocity of a couple that have been together for awhile. Stolzer easily takes them from ridiculing each other to playful and loving in a blink. Betancourt is smart and sassy, a diminutive “spitfire” to Packard’s “I’m the provider, I make the decisions” husband. They are believable and engaging.

Bryn Packard (left) and Nicole Betancourt star in "Storage Locker." Top: Packard and Betancourt square off as David Crommett looks on. Photographs by Jonathan Slaff.

Director Julián Mesri invests the script with a tempo that draws the audience in. With a video camera on a tripod and monitor, soon enough it becomes evident that the pieces of masking tape on the floor are marks to make sure the actors are in the sight line of the camera for television production. Reality television has little to do with reality, after all. Here, the audience is inventively caught between observing the actors on stage and through the monitor. Betancourt and Packard have a great time playing to the camera; their chemistry is contagious. Mesri’s use of the stage, including the sound booth and emergency stairwell, as well as video camera equipment, helps creates a comic romp through one man’s trash.

Also watching the monitor is an older man seated with his back to the audience. He fiddles with a Rubik’s Cube. In time, the older man (David Crommett) enters the fray, wanting to purchase the storage unit from the husband and wife. He claims he was late to the auction because of a doctor’s appointment. Crommett plays the character in the manner of a master manipulator. He toys with both the husband and wife, luring one with his tales of woe and the other with the wisdom he has developed over 30 years of choosing which storage units pay off. That might be a Picasso behind the trunk. Again, the fun of Mesri’s direction is watching the actors running to the sound booth as if to engage the television producers for direction or utilizing the camera as a handheld and chasing the old man.

From left, Crommett, Packard and Betancourt in "Storage Locker."

Stolzer’s script, with an ample amount of intrigue, and Mesri’s keen staging keep everything moving smoothly until the last five minutes, when it all just sputters. Oddly, with everything that’s going for it, the play devolves at the very end into a confusing “fade to black” puddle. Even the actors, who until this point were spot on, appear lost. Throughout the play the storyline arches and pulls back, reels and sways, and then, suddenly, it’s as if someone lost the last two pages of the script—65 minutes of witticisms, laughter, cajoling, and get-rich-quick banter followed by five minutes of “What just happened?”

The set design by Warren Stiles looks all wrong, and a simple site visit to Gotham Mini Storage should have been required. Instead of a storage facility of cement hallways and orange metal roll-up doors, there is only black plastic sheeting, ragged at the bottom where it doesn’t come completely to the floor and light seeps under. Trash bags the characters pull from the storage unit that are supposedly filled with 50 pieces of clothing are kicked around as if they are filled with crumpled paper.

The lighting by Miguel Valderrama appears to toy with the otherworldly, in a Twilight Zone manner, but falls just a bit short. Most likely his efforts would have paid off with an appropriate set, but how does one light a misstep? Director Mesri put together an interesting original score, which included excerpts from Leos Janáček’s first and second string quartets.

Storage Locker is a perfect example of why small theaters are one of the best “play-grounds” for makers of theater. Playwrights get to test their writing skills, directors hone their craft, and actors perfect character development—all for the pleasure of the audience, which gets to bear witness to the creative process. For 65 minutes, or 92% of the time, Storage Locker and its quirky, delicious contents deliver.

Storage Locker can be seen at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 30 at IATI Theater (64 East 4th St., between Bowery and Second Avenue). The running time is 70 minutes. Tickets are $30; students and seniors $25. For more information and to purchase tickets visit iatitheater.org/programs/detail/storagelocker.

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Revolutionary Relations

A powerful and thought-provoking drama, A Man Like You tells the story of a British diplomat abducted by Somali terrorists and held for ransom for months. Throughout the work, Kenyan-born playwright Silvia Cassini addresses one overarching question: What constitutes terrorism? The piece chillingly delves into a world ravaged by colonization, the plight of the Somalis, radicalization, Islam, the current political scene, and what exactly so many so-called legitimate governments do in the name of democracy and thinly veiled corporate interests. Very little is being referenced in the media about Somalia beyond piracy. A Man Like You is a play to be experienced.

The vast majority of the fast-paced and intricate dialogue, against the backdrop of a distraught wife, is between Patrick North (Matthew Stannah) and his abductor, Abdi (Jeffrey Marc). Andrew Clarke plays a Somali rebel guard.

Director Yudelka Heyer heightens the emotional and often violent physical relationship between North and Abdi. By design, the tension is palpable from the moment North, hooded and gagged, is thrown into the cell and chained to a metal cot. Taunted by his captor, North eventually acquiesces to what seems like his abductors’ only demand—that he sign a letter replacing a company that has been preferred for a government contract, but not after challenging them: “You really expect me to believe that all this is just to remove a single individual who some warlord ‘dislikes’?” If this were the only reason for his abduction, life would be simple, and A Man Like You is not simple.

It is wrenching and skillfully presented, with acting that is complete and detailed. The audience is on two sides of the stage and in some cases sitting at stage level. The smartly designed set, by Christopher Wharton, bifurcates the stage with a windowless cell at the front closest to the audience; behind it, slightly raised, is the living room of the North’s home in Nairobi.

Credit is due Cassini for what must have been exhaustive research, resulting in a script that is as tightly crafted as a century-old Berber carpet. The argumentative dialogue details the plight of the Somalis through decades of colonization, and it becomes clear that they are just pawns in a greater political and well-funded chess game.

Heyer is from the Dominican Republic, a country with its own history of strife and political upheaval. As director, she helps Stannah and Marc deliver a knockout punch that drives their performances to the edge of sanity. They, along with Clarke, realistically play the strongly staged fight scenes. Interjected as counterpoint to the scenes in the cell are the monologues of North’s wife, Elizabeth (Jenny Boote). Boote brings a calculated, reserved British air to her nuanced performance as North’s clearly distraught wife.

Much has been written about the American Revolution rejecting the control of Britain and the monarchy. No doubt the conversation in Britain was about the terrorists commonly referred to as “the colonies,” while on this side of the pond it was considered a revolution. Using the conflict in Somalia as the canvas, A Man Like You rips apart the oft-used language we are quick to label terrorism.

Performances of A Man Like You, presented by RED Soil Productions, are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays through July 31 at IATI Theater (64 East 4th St., Manhattan). Tickets are $30 and may be purchased by calling (800) 838-3006 or visiting BrownPaperTickets.com.

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