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Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Jenna DÂ’Angelo and Kim Krane
Photo by Russell Rowland

Hoarding is the least of the problems faced by Naomi (Kim Krane), the young woman at the center of Keep , Francesca Pazniokas's play about a space-challenged apartment dweller and her well-intentioned sisters, opening tonight at TBG Theatre.

As is generally true of hoarders everywhere, Naomi is content to live among the "stuff" of her life. It makes her feel safe. It's how she stays connected to her happier memories. She is able, for instance, to whip out a restaurant receipt and recall in vivid detail a long-ago lunch she shared with her siblings. As far as Naomi is concerned, there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place, notwithstanding the occasional dead plant or dead rat among the piles and piles with which she surrounds herself.

As the play opens, Naomi is lying on the floor among the flotsam and jetsam that define her living area (designed by Alfred Schatz, who must have done some serious dumpster diving to put all of this together). She is reading and listening to music through headphones, and doesn't respond immediately to the knocking at the door. After a pause, we hear the voice of Jane (Madison Comerzan) calling out in the kind of falsely calm and cheery tone one might use when dealing with an agitated dog or an out-of-control child: "OK, Honey. Just let us know when you're ready. We'll be here."

Jane is accompanied on this rescue mission by another sister, Kara (Jenna D'Angelo), who is less than enthusiastic about being there. Regardless, the pair is determined to help Naomi sort things out, to jettison as much as possible, and organize the rest. Will they be successful? As Naomi puts it when they finally get started, "I'd like to watch you try."

There is a great deal of subtly dark humor in the opening scenes: Naomi and Kara arguing over that dead plant; Naomi walking off with one of Jane's shoes, leaving her sister to hop around on one foot; Naomi telling Kara to take her smoking outside because she hates the smell, as if the trash and garbage-strewn apartment doesn't exude any number of competing noxious odors. But the humor dissipates as we learn more about the problems that Naomi, Kara, and Jane are struggling with, including a mother they speak disparagingly of and another sister, Margo, who vanished long before, and whose ghostly presence haunts the scene. (Margo, or, rather, the memory of Margo, is played by Leslie Marseglia).

Eventually, we come to realize that we have been invited into a puzzle box with three damaged people, and that there are few keys available for understanding why it is that each of them is hanging by a thread; the disheveled state of the apartment is a metaphor for the teetering piles of "stuff" that each of them lives with.

Director Stephanie C. Cunningham guides the action in a way that helps to distinguish the individual personalities of each of the sisters, and the performances themselves are solid. But because we view the situation from within the puzzle box, it is difficult to sort things out. We learn quite a bit about the missing Margo, for example, but precious little about the sisters' early lives beyond a couple of references to their mother. When Jane and Kara finally leave, they do so with some understanding of their sister's problems, but what we are left with is a portrait of a moment frustratingly frozen in time.

Through April 30
TBG Theater, 312 West 36 Street 3rd Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SmartTix

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