“All New People” opens with Charlie, a typical man in his mid-thirties who is clad in pajama pants, a bathrobe and a Pusheen T-shirt. His shoulder-length hair is parted down the middle, obscuring the sides of his face.
River dance music echoes through the living room of an otherwise empty beach house in the middle of winter.
Charlie also has an electrical cord around his neck. The play opens in the middle of his suicide attempt.
“All New People” premiered in 2011. It was written by Zach Braff, best known for his leading role as JD in “Scrubs.”
As one can tell from the opening, Braff wastes no time on pleasantries and doesn’t sugar coat anything in the show.
Characters are shown drinking, groping one another and snorting cocaine throughout the show.
They also frequently smoke cigarettes, the smell of which permeates the tiny theater during the Tulsa PAC’s showing.
“All New People” only has four characters: the suicidal Charlie, the pill-popping expatriate Emma, the drug-dealing fireman Myron, and the musically-inclined escort Kim.
One by one, in the order listed above, these characters find their way to the living room, doing their best to cheer Charlie up and give him a night worth living for.
Within the first three minutes of the play, Emma enters the room. When it’s only these two in the room, the play feels awkward.
Jokes fall flat, silences are piercing and it feels uncomfortable to even be a witness.
This seems to be an intentional move on the part of Braff to capture the initial tension that the scenario requires.
After the full cast enters the room, however, the play excels in its comedy and its drama.
Topics are varied, covering everything from STDs to unrequited love to the significance of the mementos of our past.
The play is able to switch between light-hearted comedy and heavy pessimism at the drop of a hat. The transitions never feel forced, though they often feel uncomfortable.
Charlie typically plays the straight-man to the rest of the cast, but every character has moments of highs and lows.
Often, these lows are caused by another person in the room. Secrets are revealed, lies are told and later exposed, and each character is a complex picture shown in both bright and dim light.
There is little else in the drama to distract from the characters.
There are only four instances of music in the entire show, and each one feels powerful and important in the context of the plot. Lighting and sound effects are used infrequently as well.
The play also has a few small video segments, filmed beforehand, with some background on each of the characters.
These video segments feel a bit unnecessary, as they give a rather jarring break from the otherwise unrelenting focus and immersion in the living room.
However, these segments are used sparingly, leaving the show to rest on little but its script and acting, both of which are superb.
Each actor in “All New People” does an incredible job of capturing the wide range of emotions that their character feels throughout the play.
Worthy of particular note is Anna Bennett, who steals the show as Kim. She brings a captivating energy to the stage that compliments her character’s naivety and chipper attitude.
The show ends abruptly, with no explicit resolution for any of the characters.
In some cases, the course of the play has put characters in a worse place than where they began. What the ending does provide, though, is perspective.
Kim states near the end of the play that “in 100 years, there’ll be all new people.” While this seems like an obvious truth, it allows both the cast and the audience the opportunity to ponder that life is short.
The play ends as the cast stare at the snowfall in silence, soaking in the simple comfort and passive acceptance that comes with silence and human company.