Saturday, August 4, 2012

Black Milk, at the East 13th Street Theatre

(John Bambery, Liba Vaynberg, Anna Foss Wilson, and Josh Marcantel in the Off-Broadway production. Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

Last week I was in New York just long enough to see one play: Black Milk, at the East 13th Street Theatre. My usual +1 succinctly described the play thus: "It's about how life in Russia is very hard." Some of the cynicism in Vassily Sigarev's play feels snarky, even gratuitous. 

But for me the production had other assets. A college friend of mine, Liba Vaynberg, stars as Poppet, a pregnant woman who with her boyfriend Lyovchik (Josh Marcantel) travels the Russian countryside by train to scam the poor into buying toasters they won't be able to figure out how to use. Liba's in the MFA acting program at Columbia, and I haven't seen her perform since well before she matriculated. It was exciting to see a performance style I both deeply recognized and was surprised by: I saw the distinct imprint of a person I've known for many years, but I also saw a range, a boldness, and a commitment that come at least in part from excellent training. Kudos to an old friend for a promising Off-Broadway debut.

A qualification: I'm not well versed in the New York theater scene, so I'm not sure how performances would rank with other shows nearby. But in general Black Milk's performances were on par with the better acting I see in small venues in SF.  

Maybe one day I'll get the opportunity to investigate that oft-repeated truism -- that for American theater, nowhere comes close to New York. For now, though, I'm very satisfied with my own corner of the American stage.

Black Milk closes tonight; info here.

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