Theater review by Raven Snook
Unfulfillment lurks behind the picturesque facade of a small Northeast town in The New Englanders, Jeff Augustin’s heartfelt meditation on the crises that can hit at any stage of life. College-bound Lauryn Hill acolyte Eisa (a fiery Kara Young) believes she’s destined for glory; certainly she won’t end up like her middle-aged dads, world-weary Aaron (Teagle F. Bougere) and workaholic Samuel (Patrick Breen), who abandoned their city dreams to raise her in a seemingly idyllic environment. But when her unhappy English teacher, Ms. Charpie (Crystal Finn), asks her to create a vision board, the assignment sets off a chain reaction that prompts everyone in Eisa’s orbit to reconsider paths not taken and adjust their trajectories in often self-destructive ways.
The Haitian-American Augustin cleverly puts a mixed-race family at the center of the story, illustrating that although chasing dreams can be more complicated for people of color (particularly poor ones), ennui is ubiquitous. While it is only 100 minutes long, however, The New Englanders feels unfocused and overstretched. Despite solid performances from veteran actors (under the workmanlike direction of Saheem Ali), the grown-ups—especially Samuel and Raul (a wasted Javier Muñoz), Aaron’s long-lost first love—seem more like plot points than people. Eisa’s escalating conflict with Ms. Charpie also strains credulity. But the scenes between Eisa and Atlas (a hilarious Adam Langdon), her smitten classmate who deals pot out of Chuck E. Cheese, crackle with vitality and insight. These cocky adolescents’ views of the future, even an uncertain one, are more compelling than the hazy nostalgia trips around them.
Manhattan Theatre Club (Off Broadway). By Jeff Augustin. Directed by Saheem Ali. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.