Tragic comedy “Pocatello” premiered at Black Box Theatre

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Christie Dix, News Editor

William Paterson University’s theatre presented “Pocatello,” a play by Samuel D. Hunter, at the Hunziker Black Box Theatre from Feb. 26 to Mar. 3. “Pocatello” focuses on the life of the main character Eddie, a manager at a chain Italian restaurant in Pocatello, Idaho, and the people in his life. The entire play takes place within one room of the restaurant, showing snippets of the lives of the characters in a slice of life format. The play ran an hour and forty minutes with no intermission and included a cast of 10 actors.

The publisher of the script is Samuel French. According to the publisher’s description, “Eddie manages an Italian chain restaurant in Pocatello – a small, unexceptional American city that is slowly being paved over with strip malls and franchises. But he can’t serve enough Soup, Salad & Breadstick Specials to make his hometown feel like home. Against the harsh backdrop of Samuel D. Hunter’s Idaho, this heartbreaking comedy is a cry for connection in an increasingly lonely American landscape.”

The character, Eddie, was played by CJ Von Essen, who is a senior at WPU. He is earning a double major in theatre and comedy and English. Eddie attempts to save his failing location of a chain restaurant, though many businesses have already failed in Pocatello. The play follows Eddie’s dysfunctional relationship with his family. Eddie’s mother, Doris, played by Yulliet Ruiz, is emotionally disconnected, but Eddie wants to rekindle the sense of family he felt in his youth. Ruiz is a senior double majoring in political science and journalism.

During a question-and-answer session after the production, the actors discussed the methods they used and challenges they faced while preparing for the performance. “It wasn’t hard to be emotional; it was hard to cover up that emotion and try to hide it as the character. That’s where it was really tough,” Von Essen said.

The actors also explained their interpretation of the play. “At the beginning of this play you’re thrown into it. It’s a snapshot. The whole thing starts, and is going to end, off of the stage. The writer wanted to show a realistic portrayal of what is happening in a lot of people’s lives,” Ruiz said.

“The entire plot of this play happens outside of this restaurant, and the consequences are faced in this room with the characters,” said Wendee Marcus, who played the character Becky. “We just see the aftermath on stage.” 

Samantha Tella was the director of the production. Both Von Essen and Ruiz have been in all four plays directed by Tella at the Black Box Theatre.

Other characters included Troy, an employee at the restaurant, unhappily married to his wife Tammy and father of their daughter, Becky, who is a complicated teenager with a propensity to vomit at the thought of where her food came from. Troy was played by William Paterson alumnus Ryan Daniel DeCesare. Tammy was played by Gina Wille-Rajeckas, known as Gina Royale to her music fans. Wille-Rajeckas is a senior and majoring in popular music.

The character, Nick, is Eddie’s brother, who reluctantly returns to Pocatello with his wife Kelly to reconnect with his tragic past. Nick was played by junior Dan Cassini, a communications major. Kelly was played by freshman Skye Gugliuzza.

Characters Max, Isabelle and Cole provided poignant comedic relief to the performance which touched on serious topics such as suicide, alcoholism and homosexuality. Max was played by junior and theatre and comedy major Ethan Lyte. Isabelle was played by senior criminal justice and psychology major Aja Jackson. Cole was played by senior John Hargrove.

Other directing staff included senior Zach Guida, freshman Joe Paolantonio and senior Samantha Waring.

“Pocatello” originally premiered in New York City at Playwrights Horizons in December 2014, under the direction of Davis McCallum.