Review of Paris, written by Eboni Booth, at Atlantic Theater Company

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    Date:
    January 22, 2020
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    Paris, the new work by emerging playwright Eboni Booth, has nothing to do with the City of Light. This slice-of-life drama is set in Paris, Vermont, a city of blight, where a group of superstore warehouse employees, circa 1995, struggle through their long shifts before heading to a second job, or to the bar, or disappearing altogether. The play, staged by the Atlantic Theater Company at Atlantic Stage 2, percolates at a slow and even pace, under the sure direction of Knud Adams, as it establishes the plight of each of its seven characters. Which is not to say that everything is spelled out for the audience. Rather, the most effective moments are those with pieces missing, or where a line of brutish dialogue is met with only a simmering silence.

    Gar (Eddie K. Robinson) is the manager of the Paris outlet of Berry’s, a Walmart-like retailer, but with a sketchier payroll department. Emmie (Jules Latimer) is his newest employee and, like him, a person of color. But unlike Gar, Emmie’s face is deeply bruised and she seemingly has had some teeth knocked out. A fall on the ice? A fall on the ice after several vodkas? Or some other reason entirely? The absence of an explanation lends an air of mystery to newcomer Latimer’s solid, understated performance. Gar, meanwhile, has secrets of his own, along with a gambling compulsion, mood swings, and the kind of collegial sense of humor that borders on harassment. Robinson’s edgy performance results in a likable character that one nonetheless does not feel sorry for after he meets a worrisome fate.

    Emmie’s colleagues are all Caucasian and harbor prejudice in their bones to various degrees. While any overt racial outbreaks are kept in check by their communal state of always being broke, verbal jabs and punches are still thrown via Booth’s skillful handling of the dialogue. Maxine (a dynamic Danielle Skraastad) is that type of loudmouth who is always cursing up a storm or complaining about something. Engaging Emmie in a bit of astrological conversation, she tells her, “You seem like a Cancer rising to me,” and the double entendre burns even hotter as Emmie refuses to take the bait.

    Logan (Christopher Dylan White) tries to be a man but is clearly a lost boy. Wendy (Ann McDonough) is older and wiser, but not woke enough to invite Emmie to her home for Christmas, while Wendy’s husband, Dev (James Murtaugh, in full schmooze), practices old school degradation in a variety of ways. Additionally, Bruce McKenzie shows up in a single but truly chilling scene as Carlisle, a smooth-talking villain who kills Emmie with kindness, stroking her face and speaking at her, hauntingly, in the third person (“Oh, she’s smart.”).

    David Zinn’s set design has as many doors as a bedroom farce, but the color palette is an appropriately depressing blend of industrial grays and cardboard browns. Splashes of red, from holiday decorations and employee vests (from costumer Arnulfo Maldonado) read like streaks of blood, little wounds in a workplace full of anger.

    (Photo by Ahron R. Foster)

    "In the world of Paris, which opened on Tuesday at the Atlantic Theater Company's Stage 2, there’s no expectation of comfort and joy. Like Samuel D. Hunter's Greater Clements, which recently ended its run at Lincoln Center, Paris is a solid addition to the expanding genre of sociologically detailed working-class American dramas. Booth, a playwriting fellow at the Juilliard School who is best known in New York as an actress in adventurous plays (Dance NationFulfillment Center), shares with Hunter a rigorous economic fatalism."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "It is tempting to see Paris as a microcosm, but Booth’s characters, as embodied by a top-notch cast, are too real and specific to be simplified. There’s an easy rhythm to director Knud Adams’s subtly brilliant production that cloaks Paris in a guise of lightness. But the truth lies in wait like a boxcutter in the dark."
    Naveen Kumar for Time Out New York