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A CurtainUp Review
Spanish Girl

by Les Gutman
I am so sick of unappreciative people thwarting my will.

Ari Graynor and Joey Kern
A. Graynor and J. Kern
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
If you are reading this shortly after I wrote it, you have one week remaining to see this play. If you have reached this point in the summer (the end of July) and are beginning to think everything you are seeing is lifeless and stale, Spanish Girl will spice things up for you. It is a smart, well-written play, impeccably cast and brilliantly directed. Even its design reflects painstaking attention to detail and nuance. How often can we say all that?

Second Stage Theatre presents Spanish Girl as the concluding entry in its New Plays Uptown series at its old stomping ground above the Promenade. The purpose of that series is "to help develop and provide exposure for the voices of a new generation of artists." And, on this basis of this effort, it hits a bulls-eye.

Bucky (Joey Kern) and Chet (Nate Mooney) are back at school after summer vacation. Bucky is a happy-go-lucky airhead who spent the summer as a camp counselor; he had summer love twice while there: with the girl of the title and with a fifteen year old. Chet, far more serious and grounded, spent the summer bar-coding books in the library of their college in eastern Washington state. Bucky's summer flings are over (or so he thinks) and he's back to his girlfriend, Jolene (Jama Williamson). She's smart, aggressive, manipulative and demanding. We learn a great deal about the three of them when that fifteen year old from camp, Skyler (Ari Graynor), shows up unexpectedly, and pregnant.

Searching for the real meaning of terms like love and friendship is at the heart of this piece, which is also very, very funny. Hunt Holman's dialogue is rich and on target, managing to be poetic without a loss of verisimilitude, and etching each character in high relief. But it is not a script that feeds us the predictable: these characters surprise us with reactions that are at once surprisingly in control and out of control. Adult responsibilities are dealt with immaturely but even more frightening perhaps, we see glimpses of adulthood that are even less flattering. I have a few minor quibbles (a foggy speech by Skyler toward the end and a Hillary Clinton reference that ought to be zapped), but these could be repaired with about five minutes of work. If this play is indicative of Holman's potential, we have found not only a nw voice but an important one.

Erica Schmidt's direction is virtually flawless and almost endlessly inventive. What might have been a blackout between scenes in another play is utilized to burnish Chet's image without a word being spoken. This sort of gestural focus illuminates every minute of every scene, giving the show a subtle theatricality that is too often passed over. Similarly, the show's set and costumes never cease communicating, all the way to the dirt the boys have neglected to sweep up from under the furniture.

I cannot imagine a better cast to execute this handiwork. There is an extreme aspect to each of the characters, but none of these actors let the idiosyncrasies overwhelm the essential. Joey Kern's Bucky floats like a feather through the emotional landscape; Ms. Williamson's Jolene evokes a razor-sharp willfulness that circumnavigates it. Perhaps they are not a perfect match, but maybe they are a perfect couple. Nate Mooney makes Chet resonate with a youthful combination of spontaneity and yet probity while Ari Graynor succeeds in defining Skyler as an almost perverse amalgam borne of childish behavior and grown-up ideas.

Take a deep breath as you take your seat. That fresh air is coming from the stage.

Spanish Girl
by Hunt Holman
Directed by Erica Schmidt

with Ari Graynor, Joey Kern, Nate Mooney and Jama Williamson
Set design: Michelle Malavet
Costume Design: Juman Malouf
Lighting Design: Shelly Sabel
Sound Design: Bart Fasbender
Running Time: 1 hours and 30 minutes with no intermission
McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway (76/77 Sts)
Telephone (212) 246-4422
Opening July 25, 2002, closing August 4, 2002
TUES - SAT @8, SAT @2, SUN @3 and 7:30; $25, $20 for student advance sales and $10 student rush tickets
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 8/24 performance

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