Off Broadway Reviews
What becomes of the designated "losers" from high school when they enter into their twenties as rudderless and adrift as they were back in the day? Such fine playwrights as Annie Baker (The Aliens; The Flick) and Kenneth Lonergan (This Is Our Youth) have found a way to mine this territory for theatrical gold by focusing their keen eyes and ears on such lost strays. Now a new voice has entered into the arena, that of emerging writer Charly Clive. Her play Camel, a production of The New Natives at Under St. Marks, chronicles the downward spiral of one such wayward soul, who turns to a combination of beer, Adderall, and a powerful strain of pot in an attempt to mask his pain and emptiness.
Gus (Anthony Severance) lives pretty much the same as he did when he was a teenager, holed up in a room in his family home and making a living selling pot to the same gang who were his customers in high school. He rarely leaves his nest, with its unmade bed, dirty clothes and beer cans strewn all around, and movie-themed posters from such fare as "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Shining" on the wall. Until recently, this has been enough to keep him going. But the news of the death of a young woman he once briefly dated has triggered a dangerous descent, his own long day's journey into night.
The deceased woman, Louie (Jillian Geurts), turns up periodically as a dream/ghost/vision and triggers in Gus a deep yearning, not for the relationship they once had (not much beyond a brief sexual encounter, as it happens), but for what he wishes it might have become. Gus, a misfit who has never had any real friends, longs to escape into an alternate reality where he can try again with Louie.
Enter onto the scene another of his peers, Ezme (Karen Johal). Like Gus, Ezme was an outsider in high school, and she, too, makes her living selling weed. The big difference is that Ezme has grown with her customer base; she specializes in more exotic blends that she markets to an upscale clientele. Gus turns to her in the hope of finding a unique mix that will allow him to relive and rewrite his every moment with Louie. Ezme eventually comes through with a special product she calls "camel," a rare and costly hybrid of marijuana and peyote.
For Gus, this is the key to his salvation. And for a while, it does seem to provide him entrée into his longed-for altered reality. However, when he runs out of money to sustain his new state of consciousness, he adds in other drugs in order to stretch out what little of the camel he has left. Flying high, he eventually manages to make his way to the home of another of their stoner acquaintances, Eddy (Joel Brady), where he explodes into a wild and wooly breakdown that will either kill him or goad him into restarting his stalled life.
Playwright Charly Clive and The New Natives are to be commended for their commitment to exploring individuals who are trapped in "lives of quiet desperation." This is not necessarily the stuff of high drama, however, and Ms. Clive does not yet have the sharply honed skills of Annie Baker or Kenneth Lonergan, who make us willing witnesses by filling their plays with fine-tuned dialog and quirky humor. Camel is further weighed down by insufficient dramatic tension and its deliberate pacing. But while Gus and Ezme and Eddy and Louie may not be terribly appealing individuals, their stories deserve our attention. It would be worth the effort to further rework this play as Ms. Clive continues to develop her growing skills as a writer on the rise.