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FOCUSED AND FASCINATING

I feel pretty safe in saying that almost nobody writes the kind of plays anymore that David L. Epstein does; and that is emphatically not a criticism—on the contrary, I admire Epstein's willingness to buck contemporary trends, to go his own way, to write the kind of engrossing, sentimental plays that he seems to like to write. They make for terrific theatre. While his first play, Midnight, hearkens back to the screwball comedies of Kaufman and Hart, Strange Attractions reminds us of Zoe Akins, say, or Terrence Rattigan—the robust, character-driven school of drama that involves the audience almost against their will. The central figures here are three sisters. Lina, whom we meet first, is twenty; a nascent artist, she attends community college under duress and rebels by dressing up in punk attire, drinking too much, and hanging out with a bad crowd. Sam is the person she's rebelling against, a tightly wound powder keg of a lady, who has sacrificed a great deal in order to take care of Lina, who is her younger sister; she's not averse to letting the world know what she's suffered, or to making those around her pay for it. The third sister is Margo, who turns up unexpected shortly after the play begins. Much older than both Sam and Lina, Margo lives in Chicago with her wealthy husband Rick, who is a banker; she hasn't seen Sam in three years and Lina barely even knows her. Sam is less than thrilled by Margo's sudden visit, and even after Margo reveals the reason for it—she is dying of bone cancer—Sam proves relentlessly unforgiving. Secrets and recriminations ensue. Most of the secrets are telegraphed to the audience long before they're actually revealed (but don't look at me: I'm not giving a thing away here); we are nevertheless instantly captive to this dysfunctional family saga because Epstein the playwright creates such plausible and interesting characters and because Epstein the director, in collaboration with the three capable actresses who headline Strange Attractions, keeps us focused and fascinated by them. Maggie Bell plays Lina, showing us the bad-girl facade and the vulnerability underneath at every turn, along with the intelligence, humor, and surprising warmth of this conflicted young woman. Elizabeth Horn, as Sam, earns and holds our sympathy throughout, in spite of the selfish and often mean-spirited things she does; she's a victim of circumstance and also a survivor, and Horn makes her admirable and understandable even as she displays the raw meanness that keeps her afloat. Jennifer Baines is Margo, the sister whose big admission fuels the final moments of the play; her desperation is palpable as she struggles to do the right thing in the face of her sadly imminent death. Rounding out Strange Attractions—and adding a great deal of vitality and humanity to the proceedings—are the current significant others of each woman. Jerry (Gerry Lehane) is Sam's fiancé, a well-meaning cop who puts up with a great deal but turns out to be holding back an explosive revelation or two of his own. Darren (J.T. Patton) is a smart and surprisingly well-put-together college student who has been hired to be Lina's algebra tutor but develops quickly into a new romantic interest; quirky and good-humored, he gives Lina the confidence and hope that she so clearly lacks and needs. In the final scene of the play, we meet Margo's husband Rick (Matt Walker), who has come to take his wife back home. His pain proves almost cathartic, and helps bring Strange Attractions to its emotionally potent, if somewhat ineluctable, conclusion. In the end, we find that we care what happens to these people, and that we're maybe a little better for having spent a couple of hours eavesdropping on their troubled lives. What more can we ask from an evening of theatre?"

 

JT Patton & Maggie Bell in "the tutor scene" from Strange Attractions

JT Patton & Maggie Bell in "the tutor scene" from Strange Attractions

"The great strength of Strange Attractions is its utter naturalism. As the plot advances through argument duets and aborted moments of intimacy, neither line nor tempo is amiss. Largely due to the superb directing and Epstein's well-balanced script, the company makes magic of the everyday and is not to be missed."

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Acting programs including Circle in the Square, NYU Tisch, and Juilliard, have all used "the tutor scene" from Strange Attractions to study acting. Published in The Best Ten-Minute Plays for 2 Actors 2005, the scene brings a goth teen together with her clean-cut math tutor, sparking romance between the unlikely pair.

strange attractions maggie photo.jpg
strange attractions maggie photo.jpg