Get Cultured — March 3, 2017 at 11:25 am

Fun and Paranoia in “Sienna’s Mantram or (A Change of Pace in China Lake)”

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Sienna's Mantram featuring Zach Stephens, Stefanie Flamm, Amanda Barlow, James Arthur, and Elizabeth Taylor Photo credit August Belfiglio

Oh February and March, the time for love and Spring breaks. It’s also the time for cold weather and post-holiday depression. It’s a toss up to find out if February and March are good months or bad months, so I always remind myself that they are also the months for the FRIGID Festival to invade the Lower East Side. Every year, dozens of one-act plays take over The Kraine Theater and Under St. Marks Theatre to spotlight new talent to the community. Playwright Zach Stephens is one of those talents, bringing his play Sienna’s Mantram or (A Change of Pace in China Lake) to the festival, and showing the world what he can do. And what he can do will make you laugh.

This offbeat comedy transports us to the middle of the Mojave Desert where the characters are attending a meditation center while the remake of “Lawrence of Arabia” is being filmed outside. The characters are full of life with strong convictions, which they show us from the very first moment. These convictions keep blocking their sense of understanding for each other. They struggle to break through their personalities and getting into the state of mind that would assure meditation. And as the play progresses, these characters start to break. Opinions start to form, and theories start to take over. When left alone with peace, what is a human to do?

Sienna's Mantram

The play explores the fear that exists in paranoia and how easily it could spread, even in a group of strangers. The dialogue is witty and contemporary, and the performers do a great job of giving life to these characters. They are us, the anxious young professionals, the smart crowd, being dismantled on stage while we laugh. We snicker about the frightful ideas of being fooled by the government while asking ourselves if we are. Stephens does a great job of bringing this comedy to us and getting us to the point in which we agree with him.

Sienna's Mantram featuring James Arthur and Amanda Barlow Photo credit August Belfiglio

But this does not spell a great play — the show itself has a problem with structure. The three-scene structure hurts it, as it lacked freshness while the script almost screamed for it. The characters, while relatable and well written, are not memorable,  at least not as much as they should be. The play has a promising plot that gets produced cleverly, but its hindered by the lack of emotional impact. We don’t ever get to know these people and their struggles, their issues are just glanced upon. If the play dedicated more time to flesh out the characters, the conclusion would have created a bigger reaction.

As it stands, we laugh, we joke. And once it’s over, we move on. But while the play will not stick in our minds for long, its has brought a playwright into our view. Stephens has a grasp of what dialogue and interactions should be like, and I’m excited for what he will do next.

Out of 4 stars:

two-and-a-half-stars

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