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Kicker

By New York City
Juliet Gowing and Matt Pepper in Kicker
(Photo © Rahav Segev)
Juliet Gowing and Matt Pepper in Kicker
(Photo © Rahav Segev)
"You'd be surprised how uninteresting interesting people are," says Michael Gray -- and he should know. As a celebrity journalist, he's been interviewing so-called "interesting" people for years. More than a little jaded, Michael (played by Matt Pepper) is nevertheless thrilled to meet Jack Finch Telsey (James Lloyd Reynolds), a writer whom he admires. He's even more excited when Jack turns out to be incredibly personable and seemingly genuine. They talk for seven hours, downing a bottle of scotch and forging what Michael feels is a true friendship; but when they meet a second time, it becomes obvious that Jack has little or no recollection of the pair's previous encounter. Robert Simonson's new play Kicker explores some interesting issues surrounding the celebrity/journalist relationship, but both the script and the production are uneven.

Simonson, currently the editor of Playbill.com, has a 20-year career as a theater journalist and has interviewed a fair share of celebrities himself. That's not to say that this play is autobiographical, but Simonson does offer insights into the symbiotic relationship between artists and the press, questioning and at times satirizing the unevenness of the exchange and the worth of the writing done by journalists relative to the artistic output of those whom they profile.

Pepper has an engaging presence, and Reynolds is quite charming. The two actors have great chemistry in the play's opening scene, making it easy to see why Michael mistakes Jack's overtures of friendship as sincere. However, their confrontation later in the play comes across as too didactic; each character's viewpoint is laid out in a way that feels inorganic.

A similar problem affects other portions of Kicker. Several characters are no more than stereotypes in terms of both the writing and the acting. Juliet Gowing portrays Michael's editor Jolie Lydecker as a brusque yet needy woman; while these are qualities that many real-life editors might possess, Gowing over-exaggerates her movements and vocal intonations to the point of caricature. Likewise, Jonathan Fielding plays Michael's fellow arts journalist Dominic in a grossly cartoonish manner.

Other characters are so sketchily written that their importance to the plot seems unearned. Michael's girlfriend Sally (Lordan Napoli) appears in two scenes and is the catalyst for the play's resolution, yet we never find out much about her, and the importance of this relationship to Michael is uncertain. Bud Endicott (Liam Mitchell) is similarly underdeveloped; he's another editor at the magazine for which Michael works, as well as the writer's drinking buddy, but it seems that his primary function is to deliver an anecdote about Norman Mailer that's pertinent to Michael's career crisis following the latter's second interview with Jack.

Director Brendan Hughes has exacerbated some of the weaknesses of the script by encouraging the actors in their over-the-top portrayals or failing to reign them in. On the plus side, the action is well-paced and flows smoothly from one scene to the next, despite multiple changes in location. In the end, Kicker is interesting as a play of ideas but proves to be less than engaging.


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