Two dramas feature vibrant
protagonists reexamining their marriages.
June and Nancy
Writer: Michelle Ramoni
Director: Kate Holland
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003
In the Ebb
Writer: Camilla Ammirati
Director: Jessica Ammirati
HERE Mainstage Theatre
145 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10012
Given the Festival’s stringent load-in-load-out requirement, it’s no wonder many Fringe participants choose solo shows and improv comedy over traditional forms of drama. Yet every year, a few determined companies attempt the near-impossible, and there are several provocative entries currently on offer in the scripted, multi-character category. Two of the standouts, Michelle Ramoni’s June and Nancy and Camilla Ammirati’s In the Ebb take place in very different times and places, but they share a common theme. Both stories include searching, imaginative female protagonists who struggle to discover themselves as they question the stability of their marriages.
June and Nancy is set in prosperous post-War Manhattan, and part of the show’s eroticism comes from its stylish retro costumes and jazz soundtrack. The wider world is changing, but June (Michelle Ramoni), and her husband Marty (Jeffrey Coyne) still try to lead a conventional life. He’s the breadwinner, while June keeps house, volunteers at the Museum of Modern Art, and attends dinners with Marty’s clients. The couple has attempted to raise a family, but a series miscarriages have left their parental longings unfulfilled. Similarly, June’s artistic career has yet to bear fruit. After months of preparation, her first gallery show was a complete bust. In the resulting marital malaise, Marty struggles with impotence while June numbs her sadness with alcohol and is often on the brink of tears. Into this fraught situation walks self-possessed lithographer Nancy (Gabrielle Maisels), whose black slacks and sensuously windblown hairdo represent a very different image of womanhood than June is used to. Nancy becomes a frequent visitor to the museum, and the two women move from gazing at paintings to drinking in bars, to falling so profoundly in love they cannot keep their hands off each other. Just as their relationship is blossoming, though, unexpected changes take place that pull June back towards home. Torn between two worlds, she seeks the help of her best friend, Jerry (Peter Daniel Straus) who is himself struggling with the closet. But ultimately June is forced to listen to her own long-stifled inner voice.
Same-sex extramarital affairs have been dramatized before, but Ramoni’s smart dialogue and humanistic embrace of her characters brings a freshness to the genre. There is no stereotyping here, and June’s strained conversations with Marty are as delicately written as her blissful, stolen moments with Nancy. Under Kate Holland’s direction, the actors authentically embody both the socially proscribed exteriors and visceral inner drives of repressed 1950’s Americans. Ramoni, in particular, vibrates with such intense vulnerability that parts of June and Nancy are almost too heartbreaking to endure. Both as a performer and writer, hers is a talent to watch.
A more modern internal conflict drives the restless souls who populate Camilla Ammirati’s two haunting, imagistic one acts. In St. James in the Field of Stars, Alicia (Leah Gabriel) looks back on her younger self (Crawford M. Collins) as she recalls the vagabond days of her youth. After the traumatic drowning death of her father, Alicia feels the need to escape the confines of her small town and a strained relationship with her mother (Mary Goggin). Wherever she travels, though, she perpetually gravitates to the sea, always choosing locations where the menace and beauty of the ocean is a constant presence. In a coastal town in Scotland, she soaks up the poetry of local speech and song, and bonds with wryly funny Anna (Lisa Crosby Wipperling), and jovial fisherman Iain (Michael Komala). But when a call comes from Joel (Montgomery Sutton), an old friend of Alicia’s, the prospect of a sojourn in Spain becomes extremely tempting. Suspecting (correctly) that her mother is behind this, Alicia nonetheless accepts Joel’s offer. Here, in a world of glittering stars, and cathedral spires, and warm nights by the shore, she is at last ready to open her heart again. Though the ensuing experience is bittersweet, Alicia emerges with a stronger sense of self, ready to begin the new journey that awaits her back home.
Less a sequel than a thematic continuation, The Ebb also features the ocean as a character—this time in a more literal rendition. Emily (Gabriel) seems to have it all: a loving husband (Sutton) a promising career, lovable in-laws (Goggin and Stewart Steinberg) and a house by the beach. And yet she spends her days more terrified than content, especially when a “Waterlogged Woman” (Collins) crawls up from the sea and bedevils her with dark premonitions. Is Emily, like her mother, becoming mentally unglued? Or is she merely exhibiting a healthy fear of intimacy’s undertow – the letting go that love demands of all us? The Ebb moves at a taut pace to its startling, and edifying, conclusion.
Both in the sprawling St. James and the tighter Ebb Ammirati’s language moves fluidly from naturalism to poetic invention. Due to the verbal dexterity of its characters, much of In the Ebb also manages to be extremely funny even as it peers into the abyss. The cast rises to the challenge of embodying the complex phrasing and ever-changing physical reality of her novelistic approach. Director Jessica Ammirati imaginatively visualizes the story’s shifting moods and varied settings, creating a series of haunting tableaus that mirror the dark lyricism of the text. She is aided by Sam Gordon’s fluid lighting, Ien DeNio’s sound design, and Phillip Roebuck’s atmospheric music.