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Allen Wilder 2.0

A challenging, humorous and original play about modern relationships that heralds personal growth and accountability.

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Joe Casey and Becca Fox in a scene from “Allen Wilder 2.0” (Photo credit: Farnaz Taherimotlagh)

Joe Casey and Becca Fox in a scene from “Allen Wilder 2.0” (Photo credit: Farnaz Taherimotlagh)

Ryan Mikita

After the house fades to dark before the start of Allen Wilder 2.0, Matt Morrillo’s newest play kicks off in a bold way: a song torn straight from the ‘80’s blares through the theater, which follows the lights coming up on a man and woman aggressively kissing, hastily undressing each other. The two passionate lovers—Michael and Donna—have quite a bit of history which got them to this point. Namely, Donna was Michael’s childhood babysitter. Michael, now almost 40, lives in L.A. but came back to his hometown of Long Island for the weekend to pack up the rest of his belongings at his childhood home. Before leaving town, a drink at the local haunt reunited Michael with Donna, which spurred a night of drinking, and ultimately resulted in the pair heading back to the location where, 30 years earlier, Donna had taken care of Michael in the first place.

A soft-core porn director (emphatically different than hardcore), Michael is a man with many vices. Played by Joe Casey, Michael comes from a broken family, and within that family he is reputed to run out when needed most. His sister—a character only referenced by name—thinks he’s a worthless, spineless deserter, and in a final move to cut him out of her life permanently, takes charge of the former family home and promptly asks him to collect the relics of his past and essentially get out of her and her family’s life for good.

Joe Casey is a charming actor. He exudes a “playboy” vibe which goes hand-in-hand with the character of Michael whose vices range from women to booze and back again. Casey shows an understanding of a man who is largely misunderstood and actually well-intentioned. Steph Van Vlack plays the role of Donna. Nearing 50 and a divorcée with a child, Donna is conflicted in light of the fact that she—a woman of her age—is engaging in an apparent “one night stand.” Among other things, this is also a character deeply disturbed that she’s actually considering sleeping with the child she used to babysit for all those years ago. Van Vlack brings a necessary uncertainty to the character. Playing a woman of certain age, Van Vlack’s performance indicates that Donna still has deep insecurities and still has quite a bit to learn about relationships.

Joe Casey and Steph Van Vlack in a scene from “Allen Wilder 2.0” (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

Joe Casey and Steph Van Vlack in a scene from “Allen Wilder 2.0” (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

The morning after, as if those aren’t uncomfortable enough, Casey’s stark-naked and hung over Casanova wakes up abruptly to find that Kayla—his only niece via the sister from hell—has inconveniently dropped by the house to get some studying done. As Kayla, Becca Fox is sassy, defiant, and—if her uncle’s word be taken—every bit just like her mother. For a while it seems that this dysfunctional kinship won’t ever grow to anything beyond yelling and harsh words, but thankfully these two stubborn characters slowly begin to listen to each other, and the door is left slightly ajar at the prospect of rebuilding the relationship.

The intimate space of Theater for the New City, located in Manhattan’s East Village, is a fitting locale for this alternative and edgy new play. The set design by Mark Marcante—the interior of a dilapidated Long Island apartment—is appropriately cluttered and dingy-looking. With the exception of a rip-roaring soundtrack of classic rock favorites, the production values are otherwise minimalist.

For a play with such a small cast, there is a tremendous amount of insight to be drawn from the many themes and careful plotting of Matt Morillo’s Allen Wilder 2.0. Written and directed by Mr. Morillo, this is a story which calls into question the worth of a blood tie while emphasizing the importance of accountability. Above all else, this brutal look at modern relationships explores the human psyche unfettered in a fun yet poignant way.

Allen Wilder 2.0 (Through January 31, 2016)

Theater for the New City, 155 1st Avenue at 10th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, 212-254-1109 or visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

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