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John P. Mceneny
Annie Montgomery
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Open: 06/07/14- Close: 06/08/14 Pollywog
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

A young girl learns to accept change and question her assumptions in John McEneny’s moving new play Pollywog, read on Saturday June 7th and Sunday June 8th, 2014 as part of NYU Steinhardt’s New Plays for Young Audiences reading series. 

The play tells the story of Tammy, a high school senior who shines at everything—except swimming lessons, where is still ranked a “pollywog” (beginner) because she’s afraid to go in the water.  “It changes,” Tammy explains, and she doesn’t like change.   Only Tammy’s life is changing faster than she handle—her middle-aged parents are having a baby, her boyfriend Randy wants to go on a mission to Guatemala, and her female swim coach has been replaced by Gunther, a handsome 20-year old man in a Speedo.

Tammy falls for Gunther, despite his worldly ways and European disdain for American girls (he’s a refugee from the former Soviet republic of Georgia), but there’s a problem—he’s an avowed atheist, and she’s a staunchly conservative Christian.  She never contemplated dating someone “outside the faith.”  Eventually, when bigger and scarier changes threaten Tammy’s world, and Gunther reveals a dark secret from his past, Tammy discovers that maybe her long-held assumptions will have to change, too.

It would be unfair to critique extensively a play still in the development process, but it is worth noting the strength of McEneny’s writing and the play’s heartfelt, sincere tone, which never condescends to its characters or takes sides.  Every character is fully rounded; each is an empathetic, quirky human being.  McEneny workshopped the play with his students at MS51, and it shows in dialogue that captures young people’s speech patterns with naturalness.  In grappling with the thorny question of stringent religion versus atheism, the play never choses one side or the other, but lets the audience draw their own conclusions (or not) about the characters’ beliefs.  If anything, the play errors on the side of too much exposition, particularly in its opening moments, but it is still a work very much in progress.

Despite most of the actors having script in hand (incredibly, some were virtually off-book), director Annie Montgomery stages the play’s action with economic elegance.  With just a few black boxes, some chairs and careful attention to emotional beats, Montgomery brings the play to vibrant life.  The final, stylized tableau is particularly powerful—an ensemble-based mini-movement place that physicalizes the play’s concluding emotional moments.

The actors are uniformly strong in their roles, from Helya de Barros as a plucky but vulnerable Tammy to Vasile Flutur’s worldy but emotionally wounded Gunther.






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