In hindsight, a show about a group of friends in NYC slowly breaking up may not have been the best thing for me to watch just a couple weeks before moving away from the city. I left David Rosenberg's funny, thoughtful play What Else Is True? with powerful emotions, and stumbled home through a city made more beautiful by the reminder that nothing---friendship, love, perhaps even NY itself---is forever.
But I would hate for you to think from this that the play is a downer. On the contrary: this show about a college improv team (directed by Adam Coy and Jake Beckhard for Egg & Spoon Theatre Collective at A.R.T./New York Theatre’s Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre) is playful, hilarious, quirky, and charming.
We're introduced to the team along with newcomer Miles, who's been cast to fill the vacancy left by a senior member. The dynamic soon becomes clear: there are two unofficial leaders who shepherd the group (and are likely crushing on each other); two oddballs who get along like peas in a pod; and a former child star who takes newcomer Miles under her wing. Whatever their quirks, pasts, and current problems, the first half of the show finds everyone fast friends. They meet weekly to practice and put on shows, and they embrace each other's quirks and oddities.
But like most (if not all) friend groups that ever existed on the face of the earth, the group's dynamic changes in the show's second half. Some of that's due to rash decisions and unfeeling remarks, but mainly, it's just the way things go. In a world that's constantly changing, so are we, and therefore, so are our relationships. While one team member struggles with sudden poverty, others face rejection, indifference, and remoteness from the people they once felt so close to. It's heartbreaking, but it's reality.
The dynamo cast executes these shifts flawlessly, so much so that, like the characters themselves, you almost don't notice until it's too late. Their portrayals of young adults still trying to figure things out are spot-on, and so is the youthful heart and hope they convey. (It made me both nostalgic and not nostalgic for my college days.)
The script also demands that they be improv champs (they rise to the challenge), as there are moments when the play turns into actual improv, with the audience shouting out words or leaving them on slips of paper before the show. These add a gleeful spontaneity to a well-crafted script, and showcase the actors' versatility.
The high point of What Else Is True? is a speech given by Zeke (one of the two oddballs) on the eve of winter break. Starry-eyed, sitting among his best friends on a floor littered with wrapping paper and lit by a soft lantern, he dreams up a future in which they all become famous, work on projects side by side, get their families together for holidays, and remain steadfast friends until the end. It's a beautiful monologue, and Jawuan Hill's delivery casts a spell of wonder. We know it won't happen like that, but we want it to.
'What Else Is True?' runs through August 26 at A.R.T./New York Theatre’s Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre (502 W 53rd St). For tickets and more info, visit www.eggandspoontheatre.org.