Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: Spatter Pattern at Chatham Community Players

Dale and Sky

By Guest Reviewer Ruth Ross (njartsmaven)

I am sure that when the folks at the Chatham Community Theatre chose plays for their 2014-2015 season, they had no idea that Old Man Winter would be so ugly and hang around for so long. That's too bad, because despite superb acting and staging, their most recent offering, the psychological drama Spatter Pattern (Or How I Almost Got Away with It), by Neal Bell, won't do very much to lift your spirits.

An embodiment of gloom, Spatter Pattern examines responses to death and what passes for community and connection in New York City, a place where most people don't know their neighbors (or even want to). When city residents do connect, it's usually in an angry dispute over a too-loud stereo.

Dale MonroeGay, 46-year-old screenwriter Edward Dunn (Dale Monroe, right) and college professor Marcus Tate are both reeling from the death of someone close to them: Dunn has recently lost his lover of 23 years, while Tate is a prime suspect in the murder of one of his young female students. The two cross paths when Dunn rents a studio apartment next door to Tate, a meeting that is momentous for both men. Intrigued by Tate's story (and fresh out of story ideas), Dunn befriends the now-unemployed, outcast, and the two achieve an odd sort of psychological intimacy. While researching the coed's death for a screenplay he's writing, Dunn uncovers truths about the professor and finally comes to terms with his own loss.

Jody and DaleOn an almost bare but evocative set designed by Bob Lukasik and noirishly lit by Eric Holgerson, Director Shannon Barry O'Grady puts her cast through their paces at a steady clip; our attention never flags even though scene changes abound. Dale Monroe is the epitome of emotional dislocation as he flatly ruminates on his guilt at the death of his lover; his final, very moving disquisition on loss brings the play to its emotional climax. Jody Ebert's Tate (left) is a bundle of nerves as Gordon Wiener's tough-talking detective relentlessly hounds him about his student's death, his wife leaves him and he sits alone in his squalid studio, drinking and listening to music. His big scene, wherein he reveals the truth about himself, is proof that the city's anonymity can wear away a person's sense of self. Monica K. Ross is tantalizing as murdered coed Andrea Evans, who haunts Tate and even appears to Dunn at inopportune moments, and an obnoxious realtor with a horsy laugh. Sky Spiegel Monroe plays four roles, most notably snotty literary agent Selma and a wise hooker. Derek Egidio also does a fine job in four supporting roles.

Spatter Pattern (Or How I Almost Got Away with It) cannot seem to make up its mind: is it a meditation on guilt and grief or a murder mystery? The former is somewhat lugubrious; the latter remains unsolved. The beautiful dialogue too seems to be at odds to the gritty story; Dunn especially waxes poetic when talking about his lover's final days. Ultimately, one wonders just what in the subtitle "it" is that someone almost "got away with"? Has Tate gotten away with murder? Does Dunn get away from his guilty feelings regarding his lover's death? Are both men trying to get away from who they are?

For all its bleakness, Spatter Pattern is a laudable addition to the Chatham Community Players' canon. Ever since they produced Pillowman back in 2009, this little troupe has been giving the local theatre community a chance to experience edgier dramatic works in addition to more accessible pieces. Spatter Pattern is a noble and successful effort—and one worth seeing.

Spatter Pattern (Or How I Almost Got Away with It) will be performed at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 N. Passaic Ave., Chatham, through March 25. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.635.7363 or visit www.chathamplayers.org online.

Photos by Howard Fisher:

TOP: (L-R) Dale Monroe as Edward Dunn and Sky Spiegel Monroe as Selma/Ellen/Mrs Roth

INSERT 1: Dale Monroe as Edward Dunn

INSERT 2: (L-R) Jody Ebert as Marcus Tate and Dale Monroe as Edward Dunn

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