Off-Broadway Review: THE COMEUPPANCE (Signature)

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by Gregory Fletcher on July 7, 2023

in Theater-New York


Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic design speaks volumes before the play begins. The small front porch of a house is pushed as closed to the audience as possible. Will there even be enough room for a cast of five? The claustrophobia and tension are already mounting. The front walls of the house are pitch black to the point of disappearing. The front window and door are framed but appear to be floating in darkness, along with the attached mailbox and address number to the side. This world is not of realism but rather of dark fragments. There is an eeriness that hangs in the air with great haunting assistance from Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ bold new play doesn’t waste a moment in embracing the creepiness that has invaded Ursula’s home in the fall of 2022 in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Played by the pitch perfect Brittany Bradford, she is hosting five high school friends for a pre-2oth-reunion drink. The first to arrive is the successful artist of the bunch, Emilio. Played with a dark, brooding undercurrent by Caleb Eberhardt, he flew in from Berlin to attend his first reunion since graduation. But they’re not alone. A strange spirit has invaded Ursula’s porch, and it speaks directly to us.

The reunion continues unpredictably, as one of the group’s five (Simon) cancels via text. Next to show up is the delightful yet complicated Caitlin (Susannah Flood), followed by the aggressive, exhausted Kristina (Shannon Tyo), and an outsider of the click, Francisco (Bobby Moreno) who used to date Caitlin. Caleb takes offence to his presence, and all sorts of memories are stirred up, drenched with regrets, unfulfilled dreams, and trying to remember the truth. As many of us know, being around those who knew us in high school often brings about the immaturity and games of our youth. There’s nowhere to hide—especially as Jungle Juice and an over-sized blunt are passed around.

The play isn’t fueled with a progressive story plot where a protagonist goes from A to B to C. Instead, we’re offered a collage of character pairings who gossip, misinterpret, and confront each other about past and present truths. Confrontations get heated as old friends push buttons no one else can trigger. But that’s not the scary part. The ultimate certainty comes from the visiting spirit who inhabits each character at its whim, observing and familiarizing itself with what’s to come their way. Or rather, our way—the comeuppance we all deserve if we’re not careful.

Despite the two-hour and fifteen-minute play, without an intermission, my butt never twitched once. My focus never drifted once. And even with the dark reminder of why so many refuse to attend a high school reunion, somehow there are laughs throughout. One can only credit with great admiration the actors, playwright, and director, Eric Ting. And Skylar Fox who designed a perfect moment of magic. I wished there were more. But most worthy, by the play’s end, the intrusive spirit shakes us to the core with a jolt that gives a warning and a reminder of how we should live our lives. Hopefully, the enthusiastic, appreciative audience took note.

photos of Monique Carboni

The Comeuppance
Signature Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage, 480 West 42nd St.
ends to July 9, 2023
for tickets, call (212) 244-7529 or visit Signature

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