Aaron Pierce ©2021 Steven Solomon and Ashley Dillard
In under ninety minutes, the new play Dime Heroes tackles intense issues like pregnancy, addiction, unfulfilled dreams and broken families. Playwright Eric Kingrea misses the mark on combining these themes into a well-structured piece.
I usually adore productions like this: a small amount of characters, a simple set, a fusion of comedy and drama. The show is even presented in a super-cool space: the hole-in-the-wall Under St. Marks Theatre, an absolutely perfect basement setting that puts us front and center in the world of a lonely, depressed father. So what happened?
This is Eric Kingrea’s first full-length NYC production and it shows. His script needs more development. As the story of a high-school aged son reconnecting with this alcoholic father unfolds, a script grounded in realism frequently veers into absurdity and even borders parody. It is hard to believe the actions of the characters at many points. For example, it seems unmotivated and peculiar that Brett Dameron's John would leave his girlfriend (no spoilers, but she’s in a very particular state) alone at his Kurt's (his father's) house while John does… who knows… we never see what he does… gets ice cream? Aimlessly wanders about town? Awkwardly exits the stage because the playwright wants these other two characters to have a scene by themselves? Because of the amount of ridiculous teenage angst and utter contempt he’s shown his father, it doesn’t make much sense in the first place that John would track him down for advice regarding such a significant matter. Also, in an embarrassing moment, one of the actors is forced to have convulsions out of the blue. How about getting to the heart of what these two sensitive wildcards want to say to each other instead of manipulating the audience into believing this guy would shake about the stage like this?
The actors dive into their roles with mixed results. While Steven Solomon nails the Isolated Deadbeat side of Kurt, I wish he dug deeper into his darker nature. Because Kurt is so lazy, I could barely sense his passion for being a comic book illustrator. Solomon doesn’t show us enough of Kurt’s redeeming qualities so we don’t really care if his son fixes things with him. Solomon also messes up his lines quite often and it doesn’t appear like a character choice. The stuttering and adding words and skipping words (“…why my son’s child is you” he says at one point. Huh?) grows frustrating. Solomon’s also the actor who is forced to have convulsions for about ten seconds and then continue the scene as if nothing happened… but again, that seems like a script problem.
Brett Dameron plays John, Kurt’s son. It would have been interesting to see Dameron explore more reactions to his father’s hot mess-ness besides “I’m going to be a snot now! And now! And now!” In a rare glimpse of showing us more than a one-dimensional creation, Damerson laughs at Kurt and says “Dad, please get dressed.” He doesn’t roll his eyes, he doesn’t judge. He takes in the sight that is his hot-mess father and he laughs. Very human, very nice moment. For the rest of the play, it appears poor Brett Dameron was directed to give the most overdramatic performance of his young career. It's a lot of angry yelling. Where's the heart? The pain? The sadness?
Aaron Pierce ©2021 Steven Solomon
Ashley Dillard fares better as John’s girlfriend Marcy. The moment John introduces Marcy to Kurt is the play’s best moment by far. Dillard is a breath of fresh air. She infuses dynamic, neurotic qualities into her character that are completely welcomed after the non-stop father-and-son feuding we’ve witnessed so far. The laughs roll in as Marcy brings a lightness and charm to the room that intrigue John, Kurt and the audience. Marcy’s upbeat nature too quickly turns hopeless and even weak as Kingrea places Dillard on the sidelines. She hopelessly, along with the audience, watches Solomon and Dameron bicker. Kingrea has written this spectacularly eccentric character but does not give her the ability to change the other characters' points-of-view. It’s as if she’s speaking to a brick wall.
Kelvin Osaze Ehigie is wasted as Jimmy, the African American student who John defended earlier in the day. In future edits of the script, Kingrea should consider cutting this character. It’s not a problem to provide John with a redeeming quality. He sticks up for a kid who gets picked on. I get it; that’s nice. Bringing him onboard the dead last page of the script does not provide a sufficient payoff. Jimmy is simply used as a device to teach the father a lesson. Why not pass on some of Jimmy’s underdog “I believe in your son!” spirit to Marcy and have her be the one who teaches Dad a lesson? She’s already been on stage for half the show.
Kimberly Faith Hickman directs the action in a choppy, almost soap opera fashion. Notice how John cleans up Dad’s apartment and then abruptly stops cleaning and theatrically turns to Dad when he grandiosely yells at his son. Hickman’s back is against the wall by the end as the two men appear to have fully lost control of their emotions. In the final sequence, we too often see the writer’s hand as Dad and Son fight, forgive, fight, forgive, fight, forgive.
I would have liked to have seen another day in the lives of these characters. On this day, it’s all too absurd to believe.
Dime Heroes plays until 3.31.12 at the (very cool) Under St. Mark’s Theatre. Horsetrade.info for more information.