The Greatest Show On Earth...

Carnival Kids
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Lesser America at TBG Theatre
312 West 36th Street, NYC
June 5th - 28th, 2014

Carnival Kids, by Lucas Kavner, offers a compelling snapshot of five people whose lives intersect via one New York City apartment. Mark (Jake Choi) is a law student whose father, Dale (Randall Newsome), formerly a keyboardist in a touring rock band, moves from Texas to stay with his son while he ostensibly looks for work; Dale’s entanglements with Mark’s roommate, Eckland (Max Jenkins), and a young woman, Kalina (Danelle Eliav), soon disturb the sediment of the family history. Mark’s past makes a second reappearance when he reconnects with Marisa (Laura Ramadei), who had a crush on him in high school. How Mark attempts to navigate these relationships drives this funny and affecting new play.

The cast members turn in uniformly excellent performances: Mark is neurotic and uptight, truly shocked that his father doesn’t own a pair of khakis; Marisa is a voice of honesty, straightforward but with her own traumas, as she tries to forge an authentic connection with Mark; Eckland is an app developer rich kid who makes Gorillaz-esque music while snacking on kale chips in his spare time; Dale, likeable and with a spot-on Texas accent, provides chances for jokes -- a few of them obvious -- and observations about NYC in the age of the iPhone. These moments both hit the mark and ground the action in an immediately recognizable setting -- except perhaps when Eckland, a rich, young, plugged-in New Yorker, pulls out a checkbook. Dale’s involvement with Kalina, a Syrian costume designer seeking a green card who is more than she seems, mirrors Mark and Marisa’s reunion.

These characters play out their relationships in a railroad apartment set painted a depressingly accurate shade of superintendent white, which provides an effectively intimate backdrop, especially in the small space of the TGB Theatre. Kavner’s play avoids burying the audience in exposition, instead deftly sketching and suggesting lives, past and present. (To take one small example, we never learn the “long story” behind the origin of Dale’s band’s name, the eponymous Carnival Kids.) This approach befits a play rich with repressed and concealed emotions and secrets. But despite such misdirections, and even as we don’t learn everyone’s stories, this is also a play about people getting to know one another, attempting to form or repair interpersonal bonds, one that never pushes the audience to judge the characters on their failings. There are questionable decisions, but no “bad guys,” as there could so easily have been in a story like this. One gets the sense that the characters, even in the gray areas, are truly doing the best with their situations, and audiences should make the best of their chance to see these Kids before they close on June 28th. - Dr. Leah Richards & John Ziegler

(Photo by Danny Ghitis.)

Ms. Richards is an English professor in NYC, spends her free time raising three cats, and smashing the patriarch.

When not writing reviews, Mr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.