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Dark Comedy STORAGE LOCKER Begins Tonight at IATI Theater

That people try to get rich off the contents of repossessed storage units is sort of tragic and shocking. Playwright Jeff Stolzer makes provocative dark comedy of it in his new play, "Storage Locker," which will be produced Off-Broadway tonight, October 7, to October 30 by IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street, which developed the piece in its Cimientos play development program. Julián J. Mesri directs.

In this dark comedy, an impulsive young husband has overpaid at an auction for the contents of a repossessed storage locker on a hunch that there are treasures within. His skeptical wife is nonplussed by his intuition and shocked by his recklessness. His mistake has the potential to be a marriage-breaker. But soon, they are joined by an old man who offers to "take it off their hands" for a moderate profit. The offer would be hard to refuse, but what's behind it? The geezer claims to have an infallible formula for making money with storage lockers. A bidding war ensues, in which the couple, emboldened by the prospect of easy money, match wits with the geezer, haggling not only for the price of the storage unit but even for the old man's system itself. As the stakes are raised, we are driven to wonder: what's in the locker that the old man is so desperate to gain...or regain? And what bugs us so much about the activity we are watching? Is it the over-riding materialism it displays, the "get rich quick" mentality that permeates our society, or the loss of an archive of a life when someone's most sentimental possessions are reduced to objects for financial speculation?

Playwright Jeff Stolzer claims his inspiration for writing the play was his horror in watching "STORAGE WAR$," a reality show on A&E, but he might as well have cited his reactions to the bankrupcies and sheriff's sales that accompanied the recent collapse of the housing market. The TV show was set in California, where if rent is not paid on a storage locker for three months, the contents can be sold at auction. The series (which spawned spinoffs set in Texas and New York) follows professional buyers who purchase the contents with the goal to turn a profit on the merchandise. Stolzer was not actually captivated by the reality show per se, but by the ruthlessness at its heart and by the strange subculture of people it revealed. These storage trolls, he realized, are all of us. He asked, what's behind the desire to find treasures in these abandoned units, and the delusion that they can make someone set for life? What happened to the American work ethic? He decided that a dramatic treatment of this phenomenon called for some kind of humorous treatment, so what came out was a comedy, albeit with a Twilight Zone-style ending (that we won't give away).

Its effect is both absurd and completely realistic. The dizzying negotiation between the couple and the geezer could be Marx Brothers foolery, were it not so believable (coming, as it does, from a realistic basis: the subculture supporting the marketplace for repossessed storage units is now widespread and everybody with goods in storage is mindful that their belongings, too, could someday be auctioned). The bargaining that Stolzer writes is delightful but also darkly surreal. So is the wife's power play when she transforms herself from a perturbed observer to the chief negotiator as the prize in the storage locker seems to swell in value.

"Storage Locker" emerged from IATI Theater's Cimientos play development program, in which it was workshopped. Cimientos offers playwrights opportunities to develop new, never-before produced plays. Submitted scripts are read by a team comprised of playwrights and IATI's artistic staff and literary managers. At least ten playwrights are selected every year and they form the Cimientos community, joined by IATI artistic staff, and the directors chosen to direct each play. For three to five months these artists gather collectively to develop each script. The process culminates in a staged reading for additional feedback. "Storage Locker" had its reading April 28, 2015, directed by Alice Spivak. Previously, the script had been a finalist and Third Prize winner in the 2014 Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence.

The play, as any play selected for IATI Theater's mainstage, fulfills the theater's mission of producing works which are "Todo Vanguardia," meaning they meet at least two of the following criteria: (1) works that are Latin American, contemporary and/or avant-garde; (2) works that foster new and/or emerging talent, and (3) edgy works that explore difficult themes and provoke thought and dialogue.

Director Julián Mesri was first exposed to storage locker reality shows while in Argentina during a week-long illness and now sees the world of Reality TV as our gateway to understand absurdism in the 21st Century. He explains that the world of this play is something between a reality show and Science Fiction. It takes you to heightened levels of absurdity and vulgarity that you expect from cable reality shows, but it's teamed with eerie discordant notes that become more visible as we get deeper into the piece. Its humor comes from the absurdity of the characters. He explains, "There are touches of Ionesco in this one, but audiences today don't consume absurdist masters in popular culture. So the exaggerated reality show personnae will help us to understand absurdism for the 21st century." The play's comedy, he says, will come from the weird situation and a full commitment to reality in all the characters. "We'll explore tropes that have become sort of iconic to certain genres, without going into kitsch or camp. You begin with reality--that informs the comedy. It's not played for laughs."

The actors, he says with pride, all have strong comic chops. Nicole Betancourt (Woman), an extremely physical actor, was the comic relief in "Los Columpios" (The Swings) at IATI last year. Bryn Packard (Man) specializes in aloof white male classic hero figures that are dryly comic. He appeared recently in Mesri's own play, "Lisa and Her Things," an absurdist play set in a dinner party. David Crommett (Old Man), who most recently appeared in "Your Name Will Follow You Home" at Repertorio Español, is described as an actor with great presence who can command a scene, which is what you need to balance two younger actors and powerfully provide the opening into the bizarre.

Set design is by Warren Stiles. Lighting design is by Miguel Valderrama. Sound design is by Haydn Díaz and Gabriel Garcia. Costume design is by Leni Mendez. Graphic design is by Evan Sargent (www.wowmomstudio.com).

Jeff Stolzer is author six full-length plays. His first play, "Survivors," a drama about Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles, was recognized with an Arts Club of Washington National Playwriting Award. It was an O'Neill Playwriting Conference semifinalist and Princess Grace Award semifinalist. His other full-length plays include "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" (Woodward/Newman Drama Award finalist; Last Frontier Theater Conference; Blank Theatre Living Room Series) and "Paralyzed" (Ohio State-Newark Play Contest third prize; O'Neill Playwriting Conference semifinalist; McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Competition semi-finalist). Nine of his one-act dark comedies have been produced at festivals around the country, notably "Emergency Room," about our dysfunctional health care system, which has an absurd, surreal flavor that he consciously hoped to carry into "Storage Locker." Another of his comedies is "House Hunters," a short, unproduced piece about people buying foreclosed houses of Army vets. He relates that he was re-reading absurdist masterpieces by Beckett and Ionesco when he started writing "Storage Locker."

Stolzer was a writer for ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" with Regis Philbin and for Fox's "Sports Geniuses." He was the sole writer of more than 400 episodes for the syndicated radio program "Little Known Legends of Sports." He is also a former game show champion, with victories on "Jeopardy!" and "Win Ben Stein's Money." He earned a BA from Brown University and an MFA from University of Southern California. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, WGA East and PEN America.

Director Julián J. Mesri is an Argentinean-American writer, director and composer. At IATI he has directed "Flor de Lirio" and numerous readings. He has directed in both English and Spanish including at Repertorio Español where he was a Van Lier fellow. His production there of "Fuenteovejuna" won the HOLA award for outstanding production. His work was most recently produced as part of Panorama Sur at the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires. He writes and directs with his company, Sans Comedia and his own plays produced there tend toward the absurd. He is a Usual Suspect at New York Theater Workshop and currently teaches a course on Ibero-American theater with professor Iride Lamartina Lens at Pace University. (Sanscomedia.com)

IATI Theater (iatitheater.org), led by Vivian Deangelo, Executive & Artistic Director, Winston Estevez, Associate Artistic Director and Germán Baruffi, Associate Artistic Director, is a Latino company that provokes introspection through cutting-edge performing arts, supporting multicultural, diverse and underserved communities while harnessing and empowering unique voices. Its activities include: a program of play development and staged readings (CIMIENTOS); a performing arts festival (PAM); a main-stage series with an award-winning repertoire of theater and multidisciplinary works; a children's repertoire combining entertainment and education; workshops enhancing different aspects of performing arts; and providing a home for creation and presentation of new works by new companies at affordable prices.

Pictured: Nicole Betancourt, Bryn Packard and David Crommett. Photo by Remy.


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