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Robert Viagas and Shelter in Place

Shelter in Place written and directed by Raphael Perahia

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

A quiet, peaceful, relaxing art class turns into an emotional free-for-all in Raphael Perahia’s new comic drama, Shelter in Place, being presented by the Playful Substance program as part of the Off-Off-Broadway FringeBYOV Festival.

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Performed at the 41-seat Under St. Mark’s theatre in the East Village, Shelter in Place shows what happens when the adult students’ carefully composed social masks fall away during an emergency. The school building is on fire and they’ve been advised by the FDNY not to flee, but to “shelter in place” (giving the play its title) at the risk of their lives. The fire is one thing, but what they really need is shelter from one another.

We meet Robert (Dan Kellmer), an macho businessman always ready to litigate personal slights; Jennifer (Megan Greener) a wife deeply conflicted about her marriage; Zeek (Brandon Fox), a funny stoner who gets all his life advice from a New Jersey “shaman” named Victor; Ithaca (Nicole Amaral), a kleptomaniac with parent issues; and, finally, their instructor Jahoose (Rahoul Roy), an art-lover who seems conciliatory and sweet-tempered, but who hides a well of aggression.

image1 (13).jpegIn the panic of the fire, their defenses come down and their true selves are revealed. All manage to survive, but then they have to return to class the following week and find a way to face each other now that all their careful secrets are out in the open. It’s an interesting inquiry into the artificial personas people try to project, and the dangers of having them stripped away.

Writing (and directing) in realistic style, Perahia uses the intended subject of their sketches, a bowl of the fruit at the center of the stage, as they eye of this storm. In general, none of his characters are as sympathetic as they should be for the amount of time we spend with them. Fox’s Zeek is sweetly comic for the most part, and his spacy non-sequiturs provide a lot of the humor in the play. Roy is complex and convincing as the art teacher. But once we absorb each character’s “issue,” they have a tendency to grate. Act I, which includes the fire scene, is clearly the stronger of the two acts, and the play as a whole needs to be brought to a more satisfying conclusion.

This is a greatly expanded and fleshed-out version of a one-act play presented earlier this year as part of Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival. One more rewrite should do it.

Shelter in Place is playing a limited run through Nov. 2 at Under St. Marks Off-Off-Broadway.


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