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Review: ‘Snakebit’ at Dominion Stage

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You’re lucky if you’ve got one: That old friend from childhood who knows every mistake you’ve ever made but loves you anyway. The friend to whom you can confess your darkest secrets, display your biggest flaws and know things will come out alright between you.

Dominion Stage’s production of Snakebit centers on three such friends. Jenifer, Jonathan, and Michael grew up together in Connecticut. Jenifer and Jonathan, both struggling actors, have since married and moved to NYC. Michael, a gay retired child ballerina turned social worker, now lives in LA. You will forget that flyover states even exist as Snakebit unveils a world of 30-somethings negotiating the complexities of raising a kid in a shoebox New York apartment and remaining true to yourself after a breakup in LA.

 Erich DiCenzo (Michael) (reclining, and Brendan Quinn (Gary). Photo by Matthew Randall.

Erich DiCenzo (Michael) reclining, and Brendan Quinn (Gary). Photo by Matthew Randall.

The play takes place in Michael’s LA apartment, which he is moving out of because he can’t afford the rent after breaking up with his boyfriend. Jonathan and Jenifer are visiting so that Jonathan can audition for a movie. Jonathan has no idea that before he and Jenifer married, she was romantically involved with Michael – his last woman. All three characters are dealing with their own insecurities which they bounce off of each other in conversation. Despite the fact that their friendships go way back, there are a lot of secrets being whispered amongst the three.

Erich DiCenzo is very natural playing an emotionally vulnerable Michael. We sense that he is dealing with a lot of inner turmoil even before he reveals that his boyfriend has left him and that he has been forbidden from seeing the young girl he was hoping to adopt. DiCenzo creates a character who has great insight into human nature and it was fun to see the cogs turning inside his brain as his character processed information.

Tegan Cohen plays Jenifer, a self-deprecating mother looking for meaning in her life. She is garrulous and relaxed as she interacts with Michael, and tense and uncomfortable around her husband.

Brendon Quinn nails the role of Jonathan, a struggling actor carrying the weight of his father’s moneyed, East Coast expectations so that he comes across as a self-absorbed prep-school grad on the skids. He is smug, self-absorbed and great fun to watch. He has a frighteningly believable emotional outburst in Act II.

Alexander Lew garners a lot of laughter as Gary, a mysterious visitor. He plays the role with a nice mixture of nervousness and light-hearted humor.

Director Sara Joy Lebowitz has had her eye on this script for nearly a decade and used it as the basis for her Master of Art in Theater Education degree thesis in 2012. Her experience with the material is evident in the very natural and cozy feel of the production. She has put together a solid, coherent and very enjoyable show.

The set, designed by Dave Moretti, fits wonderfully into the intimate performance space. The action takes place in a well-constructed contemporary (for 1998) living room complete with brick walls, a door and a lovely mullioned window that looks out into a sunny SoCal garden. Bohemian touches like numerous candles and books give us insight into Michael’s personality while Set Decorator Hector Lorenzini clearly scoured the greater DC area for an amazing assortment of 90s memorabilia including a CD player, a cordless phone, an answering machine, cds and video cassettes (How did we live before cell phones?). There was even a Rubik’s Cube.

The lighting design by Jennifer Lyman creates the feel of sunny Southern California, shifting from early to late afternoon and then morning light as we see the outdoors stream in through the large door and window on set.

(Left to right) Brendan Quinn (Gary), Erich DiCenzo (Michael), and Tegan Cohen (Jenifer). Photo by Matthew Randall.

(Left to right) Brendan Quinn (Gary), Erich DiCenzo (Michael), and Tegan Cohen (Jenifer). Photo by Matthew Randall.

The sound design team, led by Adam Schechter, worked overtime on this production: Leaf blowers hum, radios play and voice mails are played allowing characters who never appear on the stage to influence the actions within the play.

Snakebit is the first play written by actor, writer and producer David Marshall Grant. It premiered Off Off Broadway at NYC’s Grove Street Playhouse in 1998 and was nominated for both the 1999 Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award for outstanding play. Grant has had a long career, enjoying success as an actor in films such as American Flyers (1985) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and also as a writer. In addition to several plays, he was one of the writers on the NBC show Smash (2012). Broadway fans might best know Grant as Joe Pitt in Angels in America, the character for which he earned a 1994 Tony Award nomination for best actor in a featured role in a play.

Snakebit is a play about human relationships in all their permutations. Despite the fact that these characters are all in the midst of struggles that they take out on each other, I found myself really liking each of them. It’s a fun night out at the theater.

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Snakebit plays through June 25, 2016 at Dominion Stage performing at Theater on the Run – 3700 Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them online or at the door.

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