Atley Loughridge, Meredith Forlenza,
Sarah Ann Masse, and Dillon Porter
in The Wendy Complex
(© Chris J. Rivera)
Atley Loughridge, Meredith Forlenza,
Sarah Ann Masse, and Dillon Porter
in The Wendy Complex
(© Chris J. Rivera)
[Ed. Note: This is a review roundup of shows in the ninth annual Midtown International Theater Festival.]

*****************

Stylish and inventive, writer/director Jeremy Bloom's The Wendy Complex centers on the dreams and anxieties amongst a small group of people prior to a record-setting -- and possibly fatal -- jump by daredevil Janvier (Kevin Reed). Gathered together are his chief funder (Meredith Forlenza), a prince (Dillon Porter) and his wife (Sarah Ann Masse), a journalist named Ramona (Sarah Billington Stevens), and Janvier's wife, Wendy (Atley Loughridge).

Excerpts from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan are woven into the play, and Bloom's use of language is often poetic and fragmented. Characters launch into lyrical passages about flying and Bloom's staging includes movement sequences that the cast performs with passion and conviction.

Brian Tovar's lighting design is gorgeous, combining traditional theatrical instruments, with strings of light bulbs and handheld units that give the production a magical quality. The original music by Renee Dunaway/Jetsetter includes eerie effects with a techno soundtrack to set the mood for the various portions of the show.

The non-realist style of the piece does have its downsides. Occasionally, the dialogue feels inorganic and the actors speak it in disaffected vocal tones that do not allow for an emotional connection to the material. However, such momentary lapses do not unduly diminish the overall effect of the play, which remains enchanting.

*****************

Carlos Rafael Fernandez  and Jess Cassidy White
in Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants
(© Jason Specland)
Carlos Rafael Fernandez and Jess Cassidy White
in Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants
(© Jason Specland)
There's plenty of humor in playwright/director Duncan Pflaster's ambitious, but not entirely successful new play, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants. This fractured fairytale uses several standard tropes, such as a prince and servant switching places, mystical beings who grant a wish when politely asked, and a curse when pushed too far, and a forbidden room whose inevitable entry comes with a great cost for the person who breaks the rule.

Yet, it also features a gay prince's romance with a stable boy, characters with names like Testiclees, and a mix of faux-Elizabethan language and grammar with more contemporary slang, as in "This sucks most assuredly."

The cast is wildly uneven, with the best work coming from Carlos Rafael Fernandez in the title role. He handles the often flowery passages with aplomb, and is particularly funny in a speech in which he questions the validity of swearing on his "manhood." Jess Cassidy White is endearing as his love interest, Toby. Luke Strandquist pushes too hard as the manservant Grumbelino, but still has several good moments. Patricia Comstock is amusing as "Dymphna, a Slut," while Keith Patrick Dunn makes the most of his odd appearances as a character named Morty Fugit who keeps telling Prince Trevor that he's going to die -- not now, but someday.

The remaining cast members fumble along as best they can, which in some cases is not very well at all. Part of the problem is that Pflaster's writing style requires actors who are adept at both parody and more grounded verse work. And too often, it feels like they're just faking it.

*****************

Jared Morgenstern and Storm Garner in Daguerreotypes
(© Ellis Gaskell)
Jared Morgenstern and Storm Garner in Daguerreotypes
(© Ellis Gaskell)
A superb performance from Jared Morgenstern is the saving grace in the otherwise mediocre Daguerreotypes, written by Elisa Abatsis and directed by Karen Raphaeli. The bulk of the play is set in the studio of photographer Henry (Alfred Gingold), who specializes in taking pictures of stillborn and recently deceased children. He does so not out of morbidity, but as a service to families who find comfort and a sense of closure from documenting their tragedies.

However, rather than concentrating on this potentially fascinating subject, the play mainly uses it as a backdrop to explore the frustrated artistic and romantic ambitions of Henry's assistant Chase (Morgenstern) and his former classmate and new co-worker Gemma (Storm Garner). The ghost of Gemma's former teacher and lover Norman (Doug Rossi), and a frustrated romance between Henry and Gemma's mother Darcy (Lynn Spencer) also figure into the proceedings.

The play sags whenever Morgenstern is not onstage. He brings a quirky earnestness to his characterization that makes him likable despite the rather insensitive comments Chase makes about the work that he does with grieving families, or in regards to Gemma's own painful past. His lack of tact is part of his charm, but Chase also proves that he is capable of sensitivity, and that his outward demeanor masks a neediness and emotional damage that the play itself only partially explains.