Bruce and BJs:
A Review of Fresh Kills

by Tony Phillips

Things kick off with Bruce Springsteen and a blowjob; as a theater-goer, I don’t really require much more, but Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s raucous, tightly-paced, blue-collar opus Fresh Kills is just getting warmed up. Along the way, the long-suffering husband Eddie cracks open Colt 45s and acts out all over the place. Before this tense, 80-minute evening is over, a marriage lies in tatters and a wayward, gay teen lies slumped across the tailgate of Eddie’s Mitsubishi pickup.

But before we move on, just a word about that pickup: one spends almost the entirety of the first act wondering just how they got the damn thing up and into this tiny, third-story theater. When two female stagehands appear somewhere in the middle of act two and wheel the contraption back onstage, stooping to hammer in wedges behind the wheels, I was ready to hand out this year’s most awkward stage business award. I’ll grant this isn’t the easiest theater in which to build a set. And the approach of piling one wall to the rafters with refuse, in this case, literally, garbage, is getting a tad shopworn in this space, but please, no more flatbeds, unless we’re mounting a Judds’ musical.

When she’s not penning unwieldy stage directions for trucks, Gregory Wilder is essentially stuck on examining what happens when a striving and surviving Staten Island couple is set upon by an internet ’molita who attempts to Fatal Attraction their marriage into next week. This play is definitely of the kitchen cabinets as metaphor for marriage variety, but it is what it is and I hung on its every turn. That it all takes place on "the trashiest place on earth," or in and around the Staten Island landfill from which this play takes its clever title, only makes it a more interesting ride.

The acting in this four person ensemble runs the gamut: from the tragic sketch of Eddie, turned in by sublime Sopranos vet Robert Funaro, whose beautifully morose, broken face speaks volumes about the tragedy of suburban sprawl without saying a word, to Therese Plummer, who plays Funaro’s cabinet-obsessed wife and seems to think "thenks" is Statenese for thanks. Director Isaac Byrne could have spent more time getting his cast on the same page, but instead, chatroom jailbait Arnold, played by recent NYU grad Todd Flaherty, turns in a performance that seems more out of the American Idol Academy, while Jared Culverhouse, as the brother-in-law cop tasked with cleaning up the mess left in the wake of Eddie’s act one closing hummer, is a much more solid player who really sells his stomping around, hetero-rage.

Sure, there’s implausibility: an overnight camping trip on a landfill, a 7 a.m. meeting of the Women’s League that gives Eddie’s wife the chance to get Eddie’s Lewinsky out of his tank top and into a shirt and tie and even the Joy Division that blares during intermission. But these are all relatively minor beefs with a fresh new voice that made me want to see what else is in Wilder’s drawer. And yes, that’s right, the playwright lives up to her name, delivering not one, but two blowjobs: a full evening at the theater, or anywhere else, for that matter.