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Sex, Grift and Death: An Evening of Plays by Steven Berkoff and Caryl Churchill

First local productions of Berkoff’s “Lunch” and Churchill’s “Here We Go,” as well as the first NYC revival of Churchill’s “Hot Fudge” in a triple bill by PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project).

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Jackie Sanders and Bill Army in a scene from Steven Berkoff’s “Lunch,” part of PTP/NYC’s “Sex, Grift and Death” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Stan Barouh)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

For its 35th anniversary, PTP/NYC (Potomac Theater Project) continues is exploration of little known British plays by major playwrights with the New York premieres of one acts by Steven Berkoff and Caryl Churchill. The triple bill entitled Sex, Grift and Death includes the first local productions of Berkoff’s Lunch and Churchill’s Here We Go, as well as the first NYC revival of Churchill’s Hot Fudge, last seen here at The Public Theater in 1990. While the productions directed by Richard Romagnoli (Berkoff) and Cheryl Faraone (Churchill) are fine as far as they go, they all seem a little too underheated to be truly theatrical for these in-yer-face, confrontational authors. The evening’s title sums up the themes of this triple bill.

Lunch, Berkoff’s first play written in 1966 was not produced until 1983, is typical of his original plays both in language and form. A man and a woman meet on a park bench by the seaside at lunch hour. He is a traveling salesman, rather coy about what he sells, and she is a married woman. In language poetic and metaphoric, they conduct an affair from beginning to end both mimed and literal, taking off only one piece of clothing each. While Bill Army and Jackie Sanders are convincing as the unnamed Man and Woman, their use of British restraint makes it less erotic than it might be. The gray, white and black costumes by Bella Costantino-Carrigan are a bit bland though elegant in their own way.

David Barlow and Tara Giordano in a scene from Caryl Churchill’s “Hot Fudge,” part of PTP/NYC’s “Sex, Grift and Death” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Stan Barouh)

Hot Fudge and Here We Are turn out to be the sixth and seventh play by Caryl Churchill to be directed by Cheryl Faraone, co-artistic director, for PTP/NYC. Churchill’s Hot Fudge was originally presented in New York on a double bill with a companion play Ice Cream, written earlier, and represents the Grift in the title of the evening. However, it works beautifully on its own in this production. Ruby is from a family of con artists. The play takes place in four social situations in one evening from 7 PM – 1 AM. First Ruby (Tara Giordano) meets with family at a pub. Her niece Sonia (Molly Dorion) and her boyfriend Matt (Gibson Grimm) are trying to convince her parents June (Danielle Skraastad), Ruby’s older sister and her father Charlie (Chris Marshall) to join them in a plot to scam the banks at which they have been extremely successful up till now. Ultimately, it turns out that Ruby is part of the con already.

Next Ruby meets her new boyfriend Colin (David Barlow), a media expert, in a winebar where she attempts to scam him over luxury adventure travel. From there, Ruby and Colin go to a club where they meet his rich friends Hugh (Marshall), an estate agent with properties all over Europe, and their American friends Jerry (Teddy Best), a global manager, and his wife Grace (Wynn McClenahan) , a tennis teacher, who conduct a pretentious conversation about luxury travel and property investments which sound like fantasy land. Finally, Ruby goes back to Colin’s apartment, where his ex-wife Lena (Skrasstad) puts in an appearance, and it turns out nothing is what it seems. Under Faraone’s direction, the actors give incisive portrayals, but the satire might be more pungent if the play was played more broadly. However, the actors who double (Marshall and Skrasstad) show their versatility giving totally different performances in their two roles.

Danielle Skraastad, Charlie Porto, Meili Huang, Jackie Sanders, Christopher Marshall, Maggie Connolly, Annabelle Iredale and Bill Army in a scene from Caryl Churchill’s “Here We Go,” part of PTP/NYC’s “Sex, Grift and Death” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Stan Barouh)

Here We Go written in 2015 and receiving its first New York performances is a somber but lively play about Death in three parts: “A Party After a Funeral” in which eight mourners describe the deceased and then flash ahead to their own deaths; “After” in which the deceased man (David Barlow dressed only in pants) describes his experiences after death; and “Getting There” performed in total silence in which a man (Barlow again) who appears to have had a stroke is dressed and undressed by his carer (Victoria Keith) as if for different times of the day. A definite downer, the play as directed by Faraone is powerful in its depiction of the end of life both from the point of view of the mourners and the deceased. Ironically, the mourners in this case seem to have all known the deceased differently, unless the play is saying we are all different people to our friends and acquaintances.

Mark Evancho’s many settings are minimal but totally evocative of their locales, as are the slide projections by Evancho and Courtney Smith who is also responsible for the moody lighting. Smith’s streaming video for the beach, ocean and pier in the distance for Lunch puts us right at a seaside resort, while Sean Doyle’s sound design includes carousel music which helps set the scene. The costumes by Costantino-Carrigan for Hot Fudge and those by Carol Wood for Here We Go define the characters even before we hear from them.

David Barlow  in a scene from Caryl Churchill’s “Here We Go,” part of PTP/NYC’s “Sex, Grift and Death” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Stan Barouh)

Like several other one act bills presented by PTP/NYC over the years, these do a service by presenting little known works by major British playwrights, often in a different style than their more famous works. While Sex, Grift and Death may not be definitive productions of these three plays, they are both provocative and fascinating works by two of Britain’s leading playwrights for over the last five decades. Berkoff and Churchill are authors who do not get revived in New York as much as they should be considering their stature in World Theater.

Sex, Grift and Death: An Evening of Plays by Steven Berkoff and Caryl Churchill (in repertory with Reverse Transcription through July 31, 2022)

PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project)

Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th Street in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.ptpnyc.org

Running time: two hours including one intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (804 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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