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June 13, 2007

Place Setting at NJ Repertory is worth a visit to Long Branch

Theater: NJ Repertory Company, Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ
Show Title: Place Setting by Jack Canfora

Opened: June 2, 2007
Seen: June 10, 2007
Reviewer: Peter Kelston
Submitted: June 12, 2007

Jack Canfora’s engaging, sharp-witted play about three adult couples in troubled relationships is given a very pleasing production at New Jersey Repertory’s comfortable theater, not far from the beach in Long Branch. It is well-written, well-acted, smartly paced and very entertaining.

It takes place in the kitchen in the upscale, suburban NJ home of Andrea, an overbearing, proudly competent housewife (Carol Todd) and her sharp-tongued, cynical husband Greg (Mr. Canfora). It is New Year’s Eve 1999, a time to reflect on the past and talk about the future while dealing with the unfulfilled present.

Sitting around the kitchen table before the other guests arrive for the New Year’s Eve party are Andrea’s sister Laura (Kristen Moser) and her boyfriend Richard (Peter Macklin) who live together in New York City; Greg’s brother Lenny (David Bishins) and his girlfriend of two years, the sexy, exotic Charlotte (Guenia Lemos).

They tease each other and trade witty, cutting barbs – many with literary and pop-cultural references, as well as share New Year’s Resolutions as they help with the party preparations. Andrea asks Charlotte if she and Lenny have discussed marriage, and offers to help plan the wedding. All is quite convivial.

But long-simmering antipathies soon emerge. Laura objects to Andrea’s bossiness. Greg shows his disaffection for Richard, a pontificating, German documentary filmmaker who disdains anything that is not part of a hip cultural scene, especially anything having to do with New Jersey.

As the party guests begin to arrive (in the unseen living room) Andrea and the others go to greet them, returning to take out plates of hors d’oeuvres and other party fare. Wine needs to be brought in from from the garage. All the activity, multiple exits and entrances, quick exchanges of dialog seem very natural under the sure hand of director Evan Bergman.

The plot thickens when Greg and Charlotte are left alone to clean up the kitchen. They have been feeling strongly attracted to each other, but they have yet to act on their impulses. That they might be interrupted at any moment by someone re-entering the kitchen creates tension, but Canfora does not lapse into melodrama. Instead, and to his credit, his characters deal with their entanglements in naturalistic ways that don’t feel at all contrived.

These are people the playwright knows and with whom he is comfortable. The place provides a familiar socioeconomic context. There is rarely a word that doesn’t ring true (save for Richard’s German accent). The setting (by Jessica Parks) makes the comfort believeable.

This play was a pleasure to see. Well-worth the drive from NY to Long Branch.

Peter Kelston

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