I have to admit, I know next to nothing about Zach Braff. Don’t get me wrong, he seems like a nice guy, but I was always more a Donald Faison kinda guy myself. I fell in love with him the minute he demanded Dion let him borrow five dollars in Clueless. Braff on the other hand; what has he given me? Frou Frou’s Let Go? A few minutes of Scrubs that I landed on while channel surfing? A Kickstarter I didn’t back? I’ve got nothing. Nothing!
Despite my lack of heart for the poor Zachster, there I was, on a Thursday night at Jobsite Theater, waiting for the lights to come up on their production of Zach Braff’s “All New People”.
The play opens on an upscale living room in a house on Long Beach Island. (Garden State 2??) Standing on a chair is the disheveled looking Charlie (Chris Holcom), a down and out 30 something, on the verge of ending it all. Just in time, Emma (Meg Heimstead), a spunky, young British real estate agent, bursts through the door, saving his life. The two spend some time bickering on why the other is there, Emma settling on it being destiny that brought her here to stop him. Charlie isn’t buying it, but he isn’t dying anytime soon.
Heimstead’s Emma is a quick-talking, fast-paced blur, and while her strength of accent comes and goes, she remains true to the fervor of the character’s design. Holcom’s Charlie is mopey and reserved, but is expertly punctuated by frustrated outbursts that help to really bring out Charlie’s inner battle.
The play gains momentum as new faces begin to appear at the doorstep. Emma invites her kind-of-boyfriend over to help. Myron (Jack Holloway) is a hardass firefighter/drugdealer with a heart of gold, and Holloway allows him to be exactly what he is; a man’s man, who has no trouble giving you a piece of his mind, or raiding your liquor cabinet. Our final guest, a surprise to everyone, is a gift from a friend. Kim (Katie Castonguay) is a bubbly, ditzy call girl, zipping from subject to subject, with an unrelenting coo to her voice. Her performance is vapid and fun, but doesn’t quite harness the full potential of her sexuality.
The rest of the play is each character giving Charlie their two cents on his struggle. Life wasn’t so bad! Have some cocaine! Have some weed! Have some scotch! Each inevitably fail, and instead, find themselves reminded of their own personal crises. Of all the characters, I found Charlie’s big secret to be the most intriguing. The others seemed a bit too vague, or dull, and while Myron’s was a bit sad, they just weren’t as powerful as Charlie’s.
We are introduced to each character’s sordid secrets via pre-recorded projections onto the curtains of the living room. In all honesty, these acted as more of a distraction, because of how warped the imagery was by the folds of the curtains. It’s unclear whether this was a purposeful effect, say a metaphor about the distortion of memory, or just a reliance on the surroundings of the set.
I am probably overanalyzing, and it was probably exactly what it was; a projection on curtains, but what’s the point of having a $60,000 art degree if I wasn’t going to use it to be hyper-critical and overly symbolic about everything?
“All New People” is the comedic tragedy of trying to make life work even after the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. It’s about finding out how to keep the past in the past, and keep others from getting too close. Well, except for Kim. Really, all she wants is a record deal. A record deal and more cocaine.
“All New People” runs through June 1st at the Straz Center’s Shimberg Playhouse.
Tickets: $28. jobsitetheater.org or 813-229-STAR for more info.