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A CurtainUp Review
The Tutors

"Am I like the spawn of you and Joe?" .— Milo
The Tutors
Aubrey Dollar, Matt Dellapina, Keith Nobbs, and Louis Ozawa Changchien
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
In Erica Lipez’s new play The Tutors one thing is sure: Tutoring is far from a dream job. Directed by Thomas Kail, this production gets an “A” for its smart dialogue and acting and “C” for its somewhat fuzzy plot. It’s a fine ice-breaker for the Second Stage Theatre Uptown Festival 2013, this series.

The play is part coming-of-age story, part search for sexual identity, and part coming to terms with life in the Big City. The time is 2007, and the place is New York City. You meet five characters who are anything but ordinary. They are the three room-mates in their mid-20s — Toby (Keith Nobbs), Joe (Matt Dellapina), and Heidi (Aubrey Dollar) Each is determined to find a way to pay the rent, revamp their social networking website called (Think Facebook with less altitude), and find meaning in their lives that outlasts the day.

Toby and Joe are guys who are walking that delicate tightrope between being friends and lovers. They both tutor a 17-year-old prep school student named Milo (Chris Perfetti) and find that tutoring the scion of a wealthy man is a tough go and can put them in treacherous terrain unless they set some boundaries. Milo, their tutee, is a fierce piece of adolescent mischief. When not soaking in their instruction, he is pushing their hot buttons and pressing on that proverbial last nerve.

Heidi is the brain of the trio and earns her money by editing essays online and helping her clients get a leg up on gaining entry into prestigious schools like Columbia. Though a superstar on the computer, Heidi has marked symptoms of OCD, a dash of schizophrenia as well as an aversion to confronting a daily shower or going outside the apartment.

Last but not least, Kwan (Louis Ozawa Changchien) is an attractive young Asian student. He's a will-o-the-wisp character who goes from being Heidi’s favorite client in cyberspace, to invading her subconscious, to dropping in at her New York City apartment. If this sounds rather weird, well, nothing in this play is easily pinned down.

Lipez has a pitch-perfect ear for natural-sounding dialogue and her young characters, though hardly rounded citizens, are fascinating to watch as they go through their adult apprenticement and a constellation of growing pains. Lipez is less adept at sustaining a clear through-line. Tutoring aside, there are a plethora of thorny subjects addressed in the play (marijuana, casual sex,staying grounded in a competitive city) that it’s difficult, at times, to get a firm footing on what’s happening from scene to scene as the narrative zigs and zags in so many directions.

Kail’s direction is sensitive. He seems not to be directing scenically but focusing on the words. And, since this is a rather literary play, and the dialogue is elastic, his directorial approach works most of the time. Where his directing lacks clarity is in some of the first act apartment scenes when Kwan and Heidi are engaged in an intimate tete-a-tete. It’s not always clear that Kwan is merely a projection of Heidi’s over-active imagination. Though Kail has Kwan moving about in a hide-and-seek manner when room-mates Toby and Joe materialize in the apartment, it might help if he'd whipped up some stage business, or a preternatural sound effect to signal Kwan’s imaginary presence. Of course, Heidi and Kwan’s relationship gradually morphs from fantasy to fact, and it's at that tipping point the plays gains more theatrical force and intrigue.

. The actors acquitsthemselves well. Nobbs plays the earnest Toby with a natural sincerity. Dellapina inhabits Joe with a man-about-town manner. Dollar gives her Heidi the right blend of intelligence, feminine intuition, and vulnerability. Changchien is fin as the mysterious Kwan, as is Perfetti as the elite prep student.

As part of the Second Stage Uptown series, The Tutors operates on a shoe-string budget, short rehearsal time, and limited resources for creating a set (Rachel Hauck), sound design (Jill DuBoff), and costumes (Jessica Jahn). But this series has nevertheless continues to showcased some impressive up and coming theater artists. The Tutors might well school you in its simple but winning points.

The Tutors
Written by Erica Lipez
Directed by Thomas Kail
Cast: Louis Ozawa Changchien (Kwan), Matt Dellapina (Joe), Aubrey Dollar (Heidi), Keith Nobbs (Toby), Chris Perfetti (Milo).
Sets: Rachel Hauck
Costumes: Jessica Jahn
Sound: Jill Du Boff
Lighting: Betsy Adams
Fight Direction: Thomas Schall
Stage Manager: Carly Levin
Second Stage Theatre, at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre on Broadway at 76th Street, Third Floor. Tickets: $25. Phone 212/246-4422 or online at
From 4/22/13; opening 6/05/13; closing 6/2e/13.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 7:30, Saturday @ 2 pm; Sunday @ 3 pm.
Running time: 2 hours: 10 minutes plus a 10 minute intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 6/02/13
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