Review: ‘My Most Important Year’

Set in present-day suburbia, Richard Polak's coming-of-age play follows the struggle of callow youth David (An-drew Ybarra) to find himself amid the rubble of his dysfunctional family. Though Polak has created an interesting group of characters, their plight in life does not generate enough dramatic substance to warrant the amount of time we spend with them. This is no fault of an outstanding six-member ensemble, guided with depth and insight by di-rector Deborah LaVine. Polak sets in motion an intriguing premise. High school senior David exists as an insecure nonentity who utilizes a pocket microrecorder to voice observations of himself and the flailing humanity that orbits about him. Dad (Peter Savard) is an imperious white-collar workaholic who is emotionally detached from his family. Older sister Bonnie (Lisa Thames) adores her brother, but her emotional and physical needs lead her into a destructive relationship with sleazy low-life Richie (William Bumiller), who proceeds to get her hooked on drugs and involve Danny in petty crime. Despite dying of cancer, Mom (Jennifer Williams) is supportive and nurturing.

Set in present-day suburbia, Richard Polak’s coming-of-age play follows the struggle of callow youth David (An-drew Ybarra) to find himself amid the rubble of his dysfunctional family. Though Polak has created an interesting group of characters, their plight in life does not generate enough dramatic substance to warrant the amount of time we spend with them. This is no fault of an outstanding six-member ensemble, guided with depth and insight by di-rector Deborah LaVine.

Polak sets in motion an intriguing premise. High school senior David exists as an insecure nonentity who utilizes a pocket microrecorder to voice observations of himself and the flailing humanity that orbits about him. Dad (Peter Savard) is an imperious white-collar workaholic who is emotionally detached from his family. Older sister Bonnie (Lisa Thames) adores her brother, but her emotional and physical needs lead her into a destructive relationship with sleazy low-life Richie (William Bumiller), who proceeds to get her hooked on drugs and involve Danny in petty crime. Despite dying of cancer, Mom (Jennifer Williams) is supportive and nurturing.

This first act scenario, however, never develops beyond the obvious. After both his mother and sister die, David comes to realize his father is an inhumane zombie, Richie is a total loser and it’s time to grow up and move on. The path to David’s enlightenment offers no great insights or dramatic inventiveness. David simply matures.

What does rise above the average in this production are the performances. Though there were a few entrance and exit glitches during this opening weekend performance, the characterizations are vivid. Ybarra creates an appeal-ing, tangible portrait of adolescent insecurity and need, matched by Thames’ luminous portrayal of good-hearted but love-starved Bonnie.

Williams is perfect as the uniquely protective parent who strives to compensate for her husband’s complete lack of parenting skills. She also offers a heart-rending portrait of a dying woman, wryly commenting on how unfair it is that she is bald but still has to shave her legs. Savard very believably communicates the rigid, aloof persona of a man who no longer desires to communicate to the people who need him most.

Bumiller exudes earthy charm and a barely concealed malevolence as Richie. Also giving solid support is Beau Blain as Mitch, David’s not-too-bright but effusive classmate and his only friend.

Thomas Buderwitz’s small, box-like set and modular set pieces offer a very limited playing field and become more restrictive as the play progresses. However, the mood-filled lighting and sound designs of J. Kent Inasy and Robert Corn, respectively, add immeasurably to the flow of the work.

My Most Important Year

Hudson Avenue Theater; 99 seats; $20 top

Production

Cinestone Prods., in association with Robert E. Alschuler, Susan Alschuler & Sheilah Goldman, presents a play in two acts by Richard Polak. Directed by Deborah La Vine.

Creative

Set design, Thomas Buderwitz; lighting design, J. Kent Inasy; sound design, Robert Corn; costume design, Kabrel Geller, Meryl Alschuler. Opened July 18, 1997; re-viewed July 20; runs until Aug. 24. Running time: 2 hours.

Cast

Cast: Andrew Ybarra (David), Beau Blain (Mitch), Jennifer Williams (Mom), Lisa Thames (Bonnie), Peter Savard (Dad), William Bumiller (Richie).
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