October 16, 2011 | 7:00am
When the lights came up, the first thing we saw was little Edith perched atop a beam in the skeletal suggestion of a red barn on the left side of the stage. We'd never have guessed that Natasha Waisfeld, the tiny actress playing the 12 year old, was actually in her 20s.
At first sight, her bleach-speckled, early '90s tomboy clothing and
affinity for dare-devil climbing brought us back to childhood afternoons
playing outdoors in the slowly setting sun. As the fiery orange
disappeared from the sky, we would hear echoes of our mothers' voices
before they began. "Dinner! Time to come home!" But for little Edith,
there's no parental beckoning. Her mom's dead and her dad's all but left
her and her teenage brother Kenny to fend for themselves.
Waisfeld, a recent New World School of the Arts grad with a BFA in acting, was disorienting in how accurately she portrayed a willful, loud, and aggressive 12 year old. Without the benefit of her bio, we couldn't have said with any certainty whether the actress was 12 or 22; her tiny stature and her playful, childish demeanor had us going. She stole the show with her slapstick physical comedy, trudging around in over-sized hand-me-downs and aiming her BB gun at every corner of the room.
Her brother Kenny, played by Juan Gonzalez Machain, was a calm, logical foil to his firecracker sister, with one twist: his less-than-linear sexual orientation. In a shocking first for the New Theatre (not!), the show was riddled with makeout sessions between Kenny and his nerdy boyfriend, Benji (John Robert Warren). We love boys who love boys, but it seemed a little superfluous at certain moments. (We're proud, though, of the New Theatre's elderly regulars who always seem unfazed by the productions' often very "progressive" same sex PDAs. Yay open-minded seniors!)
Gonzalez Machain was an able player, but his tendency to stare out over the audience, seeming to ignore the other actors on stage even when his lines were supposed to be directed at them, made his performance feel overly dramatic and contrived at times.
Warren's character Benji was written with a fun effeminate flair, and the actor did an excellent job at playing the odd combination of painfully awkward geek and self-assured sexpot. His huge red-rimmed eyeglasses and saggy-butt khaki pants were great accessories to his gay Napoleon Dynamite schtick. In keeping with said schtick, one of the actor's big solo moments on stage was a prolonged and completely embarrassing, flailing dance scene. Once again, it was a bit much, but it did give us a begrudging chuckle.
The insertion of sound bytes from random Nintendo games (we're pretty sure we heard the themes from Tetris and Super Mario Brothers, among others) was a quirky and appreciated touch for us 90s kids.
Overall, the story was sweet, socially relevant, and pretty well told. The play, by young playwright A. Rey Pamatmat, is not a blockbuster filled with razzmatazz and acrobatics (although Gonzalez Machain can twist a mean Rubik's cube!); nor is it supposed to be.
It's a fresh work and a valuable tale about a non-traditional American family. It's worth seeing for those who appreciate new American storytelling, and would like to pay one last visit to the New Theatre's quaint old home before it moves on to its yet unnamed new one.
The play runs through October 30th. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and Sun. at 1 p.m. Additional performances are at 5:30 p.m. on Sun. October 23rd and 30th. Tickets cost $15 to $40. Go to the New Theatre's website or call 305-443-5909.