Review: “Squatters” at the NuBox Theatre

Anthony J. Piccione & Max Berry

It doesn’t happen often, but when two of our critics review the same show, we want to make sure that both opinions are heard.

Anthony’s Take:

When I first read the press release for Squatters, I admit that I was initially curious as to how this play could receive so much critical acclaim during past incarnations. After all, are theatergoers really ready for a “darkly comic” play that centers around 9/11, when it still feels vivid in the memories of so many? Thankfully, that description was slightly misleading, and it became clear to me after seeing this drama why it received so much praise in the past.

 The brainchild of writer/director Joshua Crone, this two-person piece featuring Mr. Crone and acting partner Dori Levit revolves around a one-night stand between one man and one woman right after the worst national tragedy in American history, only for audiences to gradually find out that what they’re actually seeing play out isn’t obvious, at first. It is filled with heartbreak, romance, (staged) sex, subtle humor, and a tragic and mildly disturbing climactic twist that proves to be the cherry of top of this dark and gritty drama.

While this is a well-written play, it is the performances of the two stars that ensure its success, with both Mr. Crone and Ms. Levit turning in strong and emotional performances that help make the dialogue come across as riveting and powerful as it does. Staged in the NuBox Theatre at John DeSotelle Studio, the scenic design is rather minimalistic, to say the least, with an excellent lighting design and use of projections helping – along with the actors – to set the tone and atmosphere for this very solemn and intimate play.

 I’ve seen some other plays try and pass themselves off as a “serious comedy”, exploring dark and controversial themes while attempting, but failing, to be funny. While not a comedy in the purest sense of the word, this play comes as close as any I’ve seen over the past year to achieve a dark and serious tone, while also containing a fair amount of humor that feels natural and fits in the right places. So I guess you can say it deserves its description as a successful “darkly comic” play, after all…

Max’s Take:

It is hard to begin to describe Squatters in a way that both keeps the mystery of the show alive and accurately presents it in the light that it deserves, though I will start by saying this: I left the theatre feeling very moved.

Written, directed, and starring Joshua Crone, Squatters tells the story of L. D (Crone) and Chrissie (Dori Levit) living together in an abandon flat in New York City weeks after 9/11.  This seems like a scenario that would only have certain number of places to go, yet Squatters supersedes this notion by uniquely using time and memory in such ingenious ways that you often aren’t quite sure where reality and memory intersect. Crone has written the script in such a way that you can find yourself in the real world as well as in each of the characters heads separately and then somehow all at once. This will leave the audience unraveling and re-raveling each scene until the plays conclusion.

The chemistry between Crone and Levit is also very strong on stage. The two play off of each other’s rather opposing  personalities in the show and find a unity in their fear and confusion. Crone, playing the stoic and contemplative military man, is able to bring us in and feel every little thought and jab that is racing through his mind. It grounds the show in the hard reality that they are living in. Levit provides a lighter personality to the play at first, trying to bring L.D out of his somber state. Despite these being where the characters begin, the fun part of this play is watching them take little pieces of each other and find moments to cross between these extremes, and the two actors do this brilliantly.

The cut scenes into an abstract militaristic world are startling at first but as the show continues you begin to understand how the presence of that world is almost a third tenant in the flat. It lingers in the back of the characters minds, it stands in front of their faces, and we watch in hope that they will overcome that world. In a time where a whole nation was affected, the lense is tightened to just a few people in an apartment and we are able to feel and worry and love along with them and that is a very powerful thing.