“Shelter in Place” at Under St. Marks
Reviewed by Max Berry
Written and directed by Raphael Perahia, “Shelter in Place” follows a group of adults in an art class as they use art to deal with the struggles of their outside lives. When one class is interrupted by and emergency and they are told to “shelter in place” the class, along with their teacher, are forced to come face to face with the very things they came to the class to avoid. This results in a hilarious and powerful — an honest story about what happens when we are confronted with the worst parts of our lives with no escape.
There is something so brilliant about the setting of “Shelter in Place.” An art class, where people of all different walks of life come to express themselves in a positive way will inevitably be influenced by all of the negative aspects of their lives. This concept is so rich in opportunity and Perahia takes that opportunity and runs with it. While the play takes place with a set group of people in one setting, the outside lives they lead are felt very strongly and the characters we don’t see just as important and alive. From the moment the play begins, Robert (Dan Kellmer), a rough Wall-Street Business man type of person, ends a phone call by lying and saying he’s in a meeting rather than an art class. Then, when the art teacher, Jahoose (Rahoul Roy) asks where his wife is, Robert says she won’t be coming to class, she’s in a meeting. Such a brilliant moment tells you so much about Robert, his wife, his relationship with her, how long they’ve been taking the class, and so much more. All of this in one two second moment of dialogue. A similar moment came when another art student, Jennifer (Megan Greener) came into the class. Coming in dressed for work in a tightly buttoned up shirt and heels, she begins the class by putting on flats an unbuttoning the top buttons of her shirt while talking about her husband, suggesting that this is where she feels safe and telling us a lot about her and her husband’s relationship. Little moments like this are all throughout “Shelter in Place.” Perahia never hits us over the head with exposition. We know so much about each character despite so few details given.
While Perahia certainly made these actors jobs easy with his rich and interesting characters, the actors went above and beyond, bringing their own individual humanity to each moment, outlandish and realistic. One shout out has to be given to Brandon Fox as Zeek who took over moment after moment with his hilarious and heartfelt portrayal of the slacker/weed dealer. Fox took advantage of each line and I found myself waiting for him to speak as each moment passed. Another stand out amongst a cast comprised of stand-outs was Rahoul Roy as Jahoose. Roy had a sort of bouncy “Art can solve anything” kind of feel that brought to mind many acting teachers that I have seen. Roy had a lot to navigate, being the one the others revolved around, the mediator, the mystery, the straight man, and at times the no-nonsense man in charge, all of which were executed to great effect. He too had me laughing and crying.
“Shelter in Place” seems like a very simple story on the surface: A group of people encounter an emergency situation in an art class. But thanks to intelligent writing and direction by Perahia and top-notch performances by the actors, it becomes so much more. It becomes a story about how we deal with pain, how we avoid certain things in our lives, and how we ultimately confront them.
“Shelter in Place’ was written and directed by Raphael Perahia. It featured: Rahoul Roy, Dan Kellmer, Megan Greener, Nicole Amaral, and Brandon Fox. It was performed at Under St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York NY 10001)