“It’s nice to be with friends on your birthday.”
What do an alcoholic drug dealer/fireman; a substance abusing illegal alien/real estate agent; a bulimic aspiring singer/prostitute and a Pop Tart crumb have in common? A series of unrelated events have brought them together to celebrate Charlie’s birthday with him; unless he kills himself first.
Had I known more of the plot before attending, I might have chosen a different performance of Stray Cat Theatre Company’s production of Zach Braff’s 2011 play “All New People”. I saw it on my birthday. Ironic timing notwithstanding, it was a nice afternoon in the theater.
I don’t think it is right to call the play a dark comedy. It is more accurately described as a light comedy with very dark characters. As the play opens we find Charlie is in a deserted beach house preparing to hang himself. It is the off-season. He is interrupted by the arrival of Emma, a real estate agent, preparing to show the house to potential renters for the following summer. Taking it upon herself to keep Charlie from ending it all, she calls her friend Myron; a local firefighter who also happens to be the community’s drug dealer; he prefers the term “Purveyor of Distractions”. Charlie’s unsuccessful efforts to get the strangers to leave are made even more challenging by the arrival of Kim; a beautiful prostitute; she prefers the term “escort”, sent by a friend of Charlie’s to brighten his stay in the beach house.
The back story of the characters is revealed through a series of short film clips inserted into the action of the play. These are troubled people with dark, in some cases tragic, pasts. The play has my favorite type of ending for stories of this type. It is not tragic but neither is anyone living happily ever after.
“All New People” is not a great play. Sometimes the humor comes from jokes that seem to be painted on the surface of the play rather than arising from the action within it. The revelation of the details of Emma’s back story near the end of the play are presented without sufficient development so it almost feels like some of her story was added for shock value. That said, it is a very good ‘first’ play from an extremely talented source. It is a comedy that is funny and the characters are interesting and unfamiliar.
“All New People” premiered off-Broadway in 2011 starring, cute-as-a-bug’s-ear Justin Bartha as Charlie. In 2012, the play toured in the UK, ending in London, with the playwright playing that role.
Zach Braff is best known, at least in the States, as Dr. John Dorian on the television series Scrubs. He also wrote, produced, directed and starred in the 2004 film Garden State.