October FearFest: A Review
In its first two years of existence The New Ambassadors Theatre Company is quickly becoming a theatrical force to be reckoned with. This is a group that has a little engine that could attitude and a company of talent that is beginning to develop a reputation for consistently delivering fine work. Members of the group have multiple hyphenate skills switching between directing, writing, and acting. They hold a monthly Theatre Lab series which affords them the opportunities to hone their gifts and find and develop work from within their own ranks. Their collaborative efforts to date have resulted in their premiere production of Experimenting with Katz and their first anthology Blurring Boundaries: 6 Short Plays, both of which were greeted enthusiastically by their ever-growing audience. This formula for success has now resulted in October FearFest a wonderful collection of seven short plays celebrating all things that go bump in the night.
In the productions opening amuse bouche #138, written with cheeky glee by Mandy Murphy and directed by David Adam Gill, is a spooky treat that sets the tone for the overall evening. Self-centered millennials Theressa, played by Mischa Dani Goodman, and Ari, played by Jason Nadal have invitations to a party at a secret location and as one might expect things do not turn out well. Written by David Michael Kirby and directed by Michael Scarola, the touching That Good Night breaks very nicely from the comedic tones of the rest of the offerings. Todd Butera as Shawn and Jeff Checkley as Billy play a couple saying they’re final haunting goodbyes over a series of heartfelt dinners.
Dan Checkley as Chris and Josh Hemphill as Sam are young friends, only one is a ghost and the other his plaything, in Too Old. This fanciful macabre coming of age piece is cleverly written by Erin Moughon and directed playfully by Ryan Ramirez. Deathbed written by John Pena Griswold and directed by Kelsey Claire is the largest ensemble piece in the lineup and both the story, about a dying man’s last words to his family, which are unexpectedly interrupted by the announcement of an impending apocalypse, and the cast of relatives and one clueless doctor that then finds themselves in a fast paced revelatory emotional free for all, deliver the absurdities that follow quite nicely.
The three strongest pieces of this fright fest include The Devil You Know written with acid wit by Jennifer Downes and directed just as sharply by David Adam Gill. This is a welcome to hell and now let us begin your orientation kind of affair. This hilarious and fiery tete a tete features Chase Naylor as Chad, the recently deceased obnoxious investment bro, and Priyanka Krishnan as Pepper, his devilishly twisted grand inquisitor, who comes with the skill set and equipment to execute the task at hand. That also includes a stuffed teddy bear voodoo doll that almost steals the scene.
Written by David Adam Gil, and directed by John Pena Griswold, Wee Annie’s Hold is another uniquely side splittingly funny piece. The centuries old spirit of a prostitute haunts the catacombs of Northern Ireland and an unsuspecting totally narcissistic American actress stumbles upon this haunt and inadvertently sets the madwoman free. Meredyth Kenney, as the clueless actress Stella, delivers on the laughs but she also serves as the straight comic to Carla Briscoe playing Wee Annie. Briscoe’s full on character driven performance here is comedy at its rough and ready finest.
While just as funny as the other plays in this group Better Angels, written and directed by Rachael Murray, has a deep heart at its core. A lesbian couple is in the waiting room of their child’s psychiatrist. Through in vitro they’ve brought a child into the world and that child just might be Satan’s offspring. There are several things at play here that make this all work. Mandy Murphy as Jeannie and Marie Elena O’Brian as Phyl are totally believable as a loving couple. They work so well off each other that the completely absurd situation they’re in reads as real and so do the comic elements that naturally spring forth from a couple in total panic over having a possessed child in their midst.
All in all, this was a fresh and inventive evening of dark delights, and with their production of October FearFest there’s proof positive that the future is bright for New Ambassadors. In February they’ll be presenting their take on Valentine’s love with Heartbroke: An Evening of Short Plays for the Broken. If this talented group continues to follow their own lead and the path they have chosen then they will succeed because the New Ambassadors Theatre Company has its own unique and exceedingly talented voice and it’s one that should be heard and heralded.
For more information on the New Ambassadors Theatre Company, please visit their site.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a voting member of The Drama Desk. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.