By Jason Pizzarello; Directed by Christine Zagrobelny
Produced by Everyday Inferno Theatre Company
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.19.18
Summit Rock, Central Park at West 83rd Street
by Sarah Weber on 8.15.18
Karen Forte and Elizabeth Berkman in Bethel Park Falls.
BOTTOM LINE: A loosely connected series of vignettes that show the different ways a community relies on their local park.
In the summer, Central Park becomes home to playing children, picnickers, and free theatre. For the past six seasons Everyday Inferno Theater Company contributes to this artistic tradition, keeping to its mission of creating low-cost theatre and cultivating a diverse audience. This summer’s selection is especially appropriate, as Jason Pizzarello’s Bethel Park Falls explores community and how we can be responsible to loved ones and strangers alike.
Making use of Summit Rock, Pizzarello has strung together a series of vignettes set in a public park fated to become a construction site. Mayor Clay (Steve Martin) has given the park to a private company, despite its value as a communal hub. Clay has also been failing to hide his affair with Brooke (Elizabeth Berkman), a representative from that company, from his wife Holly (Leslie Merseglia), who has relied on the park as an escape. “This is the only place I can breath,” Holly explains while reprimanding Clay for being so disconnected from the very constituents he has promised to represent.
As we meet more characters in the park we learn how they’re all connected. June (Karen Forte), a blind woman, is trying to record bird sounds in order to prove that construction would disrupt diverse wildlife in the park. There's also Holly (Leslie Marseglia), a college professor, who recently had to report a favorite student for cheating. We later meet the student, Gaia (also played by Berkman), as she contemplates suicide. She’s stopped by the socially awkward Ash (Maya Jennings), who we learn is June’s daughter as well as a mediocre fisherman at best.
One of the strongest scenes is between two parents, Glenn (Bennie Brown) and Lily (Averi Israel), who meet at a playground. They’re discussing the challenges of parenting and how they manage their expectations. In response to Glenn’s unconvincing assurance that the kids, despite the odds, will be “just fine,” Lily asks “Is that as far as we’re aiming now? They’ve turned out fine?”
Sometimes Pizzarello uses these vignettes to introduce new conventions, such as a scene with Reed (also played by Brown), a soldier who some of the play’s characters believe is still fighting overseas. He meets Cliff (Ryan Mills), a homeless guitar player, and we learn that Cliff has a twin brother he hasn’t spoken with in years. So Reed gives Cliff his cellphone and convinces him to call his brother. Later Lily, who’s now back on duty as a police officer, enters to arrest Cliff for trespassing, as the park is now officially private property—but Lily doesn’t see Reed at all. So we’re left to assume Reed is a ghost who has returned to the park. This is the first, and confusingly the only, instance of any kind of magical realism.
Director Christine Zagrobelny’s clever use of the outdoor space ensures that each scene flows seamlessly into the next. Even when multiple characters enter and exit the space at once, such as in the final scene, the intended focus always remains clear. The actors truly tie the whole production together as they find ways to make each of Pizzarello's characters—a dizzying array—unique.
Overall, Bethel Park Falls is a sweet summer show that, if nothing else, is the perfect excuse to spend some quality time in one of Central Park’s most scenic spots.
(Bethel Park Falls plays at Summit Rock in Central Park, at West 83rd Street, through August 19, 2018. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 6:30. Tickets are free, but there is a suggested donation of $10. For more information visit everydayinferno.com.)
Bethel Park Falls is written by Jason Pizzarello. Directed by Christine Zagrobelny.
The cast is Elizabeth Berkman, Bennie Brown, Karen Forte, Averi Israel, Maya Jennings, Leslie Merseglia, Sten Martin, and Ryan Mills.