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    2008-2009 reviews:
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    Welcome to New Jersey

    The greatest story ever tolled?

    Toll takers on the New Jersey Turnpike watch life pass them by, and gas-station attendants rhapsodize about romance, in the sharply written and perceptive "Welcome to New Jersey."


    It's not all tedium and exhaust fumes when you're collecting tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike — there's also the brotherhood of the break room. That's the world we're invited into in the first half of "Welcome to New Jersey," an all-too-true look at the male of that state's species.

    Company: Bon Bock.
    Written by: Alex Dawson.
    Directed by: Jane Hardy.
    Cast: Brendan Connor, Rich Odell, Joseph Pacillo, Marvin Schwartz, Jeff Maschi.

    Related links: Official site
    The pleasures of the toll-taking life are slim indeed — for "Sopranos" fans who think the macho New Jersey life is all excitement, this play explores the purgatorial existence of the unconnected. The highlight of the day might be taking a toll from a celebrity in a Lexus, arguing about a hockey game, or getting into a little dustup with a local mom at the deli. That's what happened to a big, strapping guy named Moss on this particular day.

    "She yells, right in front of everybody, 'Fuck you, fuckwad!' " says Moss.

    "Nice body?" asks Rich.

    Alex Dawson's short play "16E" hits every note perfectly, from true and often-hilarious dialogue to big issues about where, if anywhere, these characters are going in life. What's interesting about these guys in this place is that their lives are devoted to literally watching the world pass them by. To Rich (Rich Odell), it's a pretty good paycheck — why complain? Moss (Joseph Pacillo), on the other hand, has a nagging suspicion that there's more to life, but whether he'll ever leave and pursue his destiny or he'll mope around the Turnpike until retirement is an open question.

    The second short play, "Pumping for Jill," also looks at classic New Jersey guys watching the world drive by — this time in a Mobil station where the thirtysomething Axel (Jeff Maschi) has been working a long three years, which is stunning to the callow metalhead Looth (Rob Perry), for whom this is one in a series of nothing jobs. Axel, still burly but on the edge of a possibly pudgy middle age, tries to bury his inner turmoil under a slightly desperate veneer of romanticism.

    One shred of hope keeps him going — the memory of a customer who drove through one day and imprinted herself on his heart.

    How was her ass, wonders Looth.

    "You don't understand — it's all about the eyes," Axel smiles, describing the woman of his dreams. "The eyes are the windows of the soul."

    "Well, the ass is the windows of whether I'm going to fuck a girl or not," Looth responds.

    The playwright Dawson, who also won praise for "Deep in the Jeeps of Georgia" at this year's Fringe Festival, deftly captures two sides of the New Jersey mind at once — the natives' proud sense that they're enjoying life as it's meant to be, and the subconscious unease that real life is happening to other people in other places and the Garden State amounts to a rest stop on the highway of reality.

    NOVEMBER 28, 2001

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