There is a sweetness only slightly diluted by tartness to Sam Silbiger’s brand new Six Years Old, one of the plays in this year’s Corkscrew Theater Festival at the Paradise Factory in the East Village.
Six Years Old is a gem of a play, its facets polished by the director Helen Handelman. Every emotional revelation, no matter how subtle is illuminated by the acting of its four-member cast: Julia Weldon (they/them) as the willful six-year-old Adelaide, just beginning to find her gender identity; Conor William Wright as her precocious four-year-old brother Dewey; Diane Chen as their put-upon, not very professional babysitter Kim; and Meghan E. Jones as their seemingly calm mother Rachel.
From the very first lines Silbiger displays an understanding of how children express themselves, totally unable to censor their wishes. Adelaide constantly tries to extort favors from Kim who will have none of it. Kim will not give in: no iPad, no silly behavior, no raisin toast until Adelaide puts on her pants.
“Kim smells like a mole rat. She has hairy legs. She has a big butt,” shouts Adelaide while bouncing around the floor with Dewey who joyfully joins in with her antics.
This opening scene shows how clever both children—especially Adelaide—are. Their vocabulary—including some dirty words and anatomical references—clearly issues from a well-heeled upbringing and an indulgent parent. At one point Adelaide actually lists her school activities: writing, Arabic art, dancing and saying what they were grateful for. (Adelaide was grateful for J.K. Rowlings and for Kim.)
As Six Years Old progresses, we learn much more about these three characters. Their gentle bickering gets bolder with both children revealing more about themselves. There is a battle over a “Han Solo” black vest that both kids want to wear. Adelaide quietly admits that they do not like being called a girl. The conversation between the siblings gets more and more complicated, revealing the extent of their awareness of the rest of the world.
Things come to a climax when Adelaide is injured playing with a plugged in toaster, after which the mood changes dramatically. Rachel appears and puts a damper on the freewheeling household Kim has been overseeing. Adelaide has changed, becoming even more self-perceptive and argumentative. Her relationship with her brother and Kim changes. An independent Adelaide ends the play in a very personal display that makes Six Years Old special and different.
The four actors are wonderfully in tune with each other, but Weldon is particularly moving (and irritating!) as Adelaide. They never overshadow the others, but still stand out as the most memorable character.
You-Shin Chen’s lovely detailed living room set, quite posh for off-Broadway, reveals a lot about the sibling’s privileged surroundings. Ricky Reynoso’s costumes are perfect for each character from Rachel’s upper middle class chic to Kim’s colorful messiness to the kids’ duds.
The understated lighting by Stacey Derosier helps create different moods. . Although the action appeared to take place in a living room Renee Yeong’s carefully crafted sound design brought to mind kitchen, bathroom and outside activities adding dimension to the play. Choreographer Jonathan Matthews’ haphazard, natural looking movements catches Adelaide’s internal conflicts.
Six Years Old treats all its characters, including the fascinating children, evenhandedly and with an odd dignity making the play a vivid character study.
Six Years Old (through July 28, 2019)
Corkscrew Theater Festival and Madeleine Goldsmith
Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 347-954-9125 or visit http://www.corkscrewfestival.org
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission