Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Spellbinding new play at Luna Stage ‘The High Water Mark’

The High Water Mark
This Fall theater season has been specially exciting due to fabulous star-turn performances from women.  They are: The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production of A Most Dangerous Woman with Aedin Moloney, The Women's Theater Company's Master Class with Katrina Ferguson, The New Jersey Rep's Broomstick with Andrea Gallo, and Dreamcatcher's The Other Place with Harriet Trangucci.  This week add two other ladies to this exclusive list:  Andrea Maulella and Sabrina Proffit (photo above). These two ladies shine in Luna Stage's spellbinding world premiere production The High Water Mark.  

The play is by Montclair native Ben Clawson* and directed by Cheryl Katz**. Clawson also wrote the excellent The Dangers of Electric Lighting about the AC-DC war between (West Orange resident) Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla that Luna premiered (and commissioned) in 2011. 

The High Water Mark is set in a shabby apartment located in a very down-market North Jersey neighborhood. It is rented by the recently divorced school teacher and mother of two Janet (Andrea Maulella). Her ex-husband lives in the large family home with their two boys and collects alimony from her! The 'why?' answer will not be revealed here. At the play's opening, the time is 1 am on a school night and Janet reluctantly receives a more than slightly inebriated old school friend, Lily (Sabrina Profitt) who has been absent from her life during the collapse of Janet's marriage.

Over the course of the next two hours we feel like a peeping tom observing a most intimate conversation between the two that ranges from highly sympathetic to violently aggressive and all stops in between. The title of the play could have easily been Crossroads instead of The High Water Mark since both women have reached a point in their lives that demands redirection or face grim, very uncertain futures. The play billed as a comedy has many amusing moments but Neil Simon it is not....a gem, it is however. The situations that Janet and Lily have mostly created for themselves are borderline tragic.

Playwright Ben Clawson has given us two fascinating, very real characters who, unlike many plays, are actually likable. It would be hard not to be sympathetic to their situation. Fear not this is not a remake of Thelma and Louise.

Again, The High Water Mark is riveting theater presenting a vivid, honest, relatable view of much of our society (at least our neighbors!). This is excellent theater with two outstanding performances. Andrea Maulella beautifully projects the shattered world of Janet and Sabrina Profitt is terrific as Lily, never taking the flamboyant character 'over-the-top.'

What makes this 21st Luna season opener even more special is the fact that this is director Cheryl Katz' first season as artistic director. The Luna is clearly in good hands. We rate The High Water Mark four stars.

Cheryl Katz's creative team includes: Charles Murdock Lucas (set); Jorge Arroyo (lights); Jay Spriggs (sound) and Deborah Caney (costumes). Audriana Sabino is the production stage manager.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio

The production, runs through Sunday, Nov.10 with performances on consecutive days: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Audience talkback with Clawson, the playwright, follows the performance on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $25 to $35 with discounts offered to students at $10. Season passes are also available. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 973-395-5551. Luna Stage is located at 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ 07052. The theatre is handicapped accessible and assistive listening devices are available.

* Luna Stage commissioned Clawson, graduate of Montclair State University and founder and resident playwright of StrangeDog Theatre Company, to write The Dangers of Electric Lighting about the war of currents between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Luna Stage produced the world premiere of this play to great critical acclaim in 2011. Clawson’s noteworthy achievements include: evening winner and finalist in the Samuel French Short Play Festival, national finalist for the American College Theater Festival's John Cauble One-Act Award, finalist for the Princess Grace Award in playwriting, and recipient of the Kennedy Center's David Mark Cohen Award.

**Katz started at Luna Stage in 2003 as director of play development. After eight years, she took on the position of associate artistic director at the organization before being appointed artistic director in 2013. During her time at Luna, Katz has contributed to the development of more than fifty new works for the stage and directed the world premieres of Carnaval by Nikkole Salter, Mercy and The Fireflyby Amy Hartman, The Fastest Woman Alive by Karen Sunde, and all three Luna productions of The Man In Room 306 by Craig Alan Edwards (1995 and 2008 in New Jersey, 2010 in New York).

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