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A CurtainUp Review

By Les Gutman

The world population is divided into those of us who incessantly take pictures, and the rest of us for whom this tedious hobby/obsession demands an inordinate amount of patience. Erin Sanders seems to fit in the latter category, but his new play, a meditation of sorts on its titular subject, tests our patience nonetheless.

This is one of those plays in which the characters are so annoying you wish the actors were not quite so good at portraying them. The unnamed family in Snapshots -- Dad (Tom Aulino), Mom (Mary Stout) and Sonny (Jonathan Woodward) -- might have been one of those vanilla suburban households in an early TV sitcom, but for a few details. In some families, alcoholic parents are the explanation for the troubled kid. Here, we have a father who is a camera addict, a mother who is his enabler and a son who has turned not to drugs but to fire.

As the play opens, Sonny is in his room, having returned from being "sent away" for what he did. Sanders makes a game of revealing Sonny's transgression, but it's not much of a mystery: there's a charred empty lot next door where the neighbor's house used to be. Now that the black-clad Sonny is back, his pastel cardigan-wearing father is orchestrating the family's future, with his skeptical but obedient wife in tow.

Dad's plan revolves around looking at the family snapshots which he guardedly maintains in a large metal box. He will remove them from the box and pass them to Sonny to inspect as they sit at the kitchen table. Mom will stand at the ironing board and make an occasional comment. "That would be natural," they agree. "A picture is a way of being reminded of what we are," Dad tells Sonny. Sonny (no surprise here) will have nothing of it.  He "wants it real". The eventual consequence of the conflict that ensues can be predicted by noting that the fourth character listed in the playbill is Nurse Wendy (Wendy Martling).

Sanders has embedded a great deal under the surface of his Snapshots. It's an original and quite fascinating way of considering the pattern of denial and resentment that is at the core of many family problems: a photographer frames his own reality, and a picture that doesn't fit in can be squirreled away; and a snapshot can't convey heat. He's also written some good, clever material here. Some of the interaction between the parents is quite funny, and a word game called "Stink Pink" brings the line between reality and image into high relief in a particularly expressive way.

But a large part of what counts as character development gets mighty annoying as well as incomprehensible. I noticed that every time I felt lost, Dad's face shared my bewilderment. Sanders never really is able to connect the dots. This is especially true in the leap from the first act to the second. Much happens, and we know why; the question is, why should we care? The play's live rock music prompts a similar reaction. While we always appreciate the extra benefits of live sound, it's said to relate somehow to Sonny's inner thoughts, but never does.

The shortcomings here do not undercut the fine work of the four actors. Aulino is so good portraying Dad's superficial über-nerdiness, you want to strangle him. Mary Stout has been directed a bit too cartoonishly for my taste, but is nonetheless near perfect and totally committed in conjuring up what I found to be the play's real enigma. Woodward is fine as the hard-to-stomach problem child in the first act, and excels in the unusual demands (which I won't describe) of his role after the intermission. Martling is also quite effective. Joel Goldes directs the cast crisply and efficiently without imposing any unneeded flourishes.

I don't think I'd invite these people to dinner just yet, but I think I will check to make sure I've canceled all of my photo club memberships.

by Erin Sanders 
Directed by Joel Goldes 
with Tom Aulino, Wendy Martling, Mary Stout and Jonathan Woodward 
Set Design: Zeke Leonard 
Costume Design: Tom Reiter 
Lighting Design: Scott Poitras 
Sound Design: Eric Shimm 
Original Music by Phil Gajdjis 
Miranda Theatre, 259 West 30th Street (7/8 AV) (212) 268- 9829 
Opening postponed to April 18, 1999 closing date not announced 
Seen April 15, 1999 and reviewed by Les Gutman April 19, 1999

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