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2012 FringeNYC Roundup #7

Reports on An Interrogation Primer, Nocturnal, and Vacuum at the New York International Fringe Festival.

[Ed. Note: This is the seventh in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the sixteenth annual New York International Fringe Festival.]


Sean Bolger in An Interrogation Primer
(© Paula Mauro)
An Interrogation Primer, at the Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre, steps confidently outside the safe confines of "theater." The 35-minute monologue is written by military veteran Mike Nowacki in the second person as instructions for how to do an interrogation. The set is equally straightforward, consisting solely of a stark table that actor Sean Bolger paces around. His character isn't given a name; he doesn't introduce himself but rather appears as an increasingly persistent dream that seeps into our consciousness.

Nowacki served as an interrogator in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, and writes with an unfinished urgency that works to his advantage. This is not a "well-made play" and director Eric Ziegenhagen never tries to force it to be one. Rather, he harnesses Nowacki's raw energy through Bolger's acutely focused performance, and thrusts it upon us. There isn't any exposition; there aren't really even many recurring characters. Instead, the audience becomes the characters as if in a "choose your own adventure novel" -- but one written by Joseph Conrad.

The humor is fleeting and pitch black, and there doesn't seem to be a way out after Bolger slams the theater door shut early on in the work. It gets to the point where the everyday rhythms of the interrogation are so ingrained in our minds that we lose track of time and of beginnings, middles and ends. It's in these moments that we feel closest to Nowacki and the interrogator he has created before us. Good and evil recede unfocused into the background as incongruent pieces of information are thrust together in the hopes of creating a cohesive thought.

As the interrogation continues, objectives become less, not more, clear. There's never a slickness like in the FOX television show 24 -- just a blur of thought that superiors try unsuccessfully to reign in with a list of rules. However, as Nowacki points out, there are no rules, only guidelines. Then without warning, the show ends as abruptly as it began.

-- Chris Kompanek

Next Page: Nocturnal
Ayo Chrysais W and Gregory Anderson-Elysee
in Nocturnal
(Courtesy of the company)
Time moves backwards in Nocturnal, presented by Pangea Performance Ensemble with Spleen Theatre at the New Ohio. The action begins at 5:51am at a diner in New York City, with successive scenes jumping both time and space to show what occurred earlier in the night.

It's an intriguing structure that only occasionally feels like a gimmick. A shootout in a deli, a fight at a strip club, and a domestic blowup mix with smaller scale events such as a flirtation, a call to a DJ, and some kinky sex. However, the piece -- written and performed by the ensemble and directed by Laura Tesman -- includes so many storylines that many end up feeling underdeveloped.

For example, what happens to rookie cop Rose (Ayo Chrysais W) begins to strain credulity if it is all supposed to have occurred in one night. Similarly, the scenario involving security guard Virgil (Gregory Anderson-Elysee) lacks a consistency in terms of character continuity, even given that people sometimes act differently with family than they do with complete strangers.

Indeed, the only plot thread to feature a significant and plausible journey for one of the characters is that of Marcus (compellingly performed by Dennis Kravstov), a man involved in a human trafficking operation. In one of the earlier scenes of the play, we see the decision that he's come to in regards to his job, and as the production progresses we find out precisely what triggered this transformation.

The quality of the writing varies widely in Nocturnal, as do the abilities of the cast. Among the brighter talents are Salvatore Linea, who delivers a charmingly understated performance as deli worker Khizar; Dante Jayce in the fairly minor role of a talkative cabbie; and Alexander Wright, as a velvety voiced DJ.

Less effective are Niki Rios, who gives a bad first impression delivering an off-rhythm and tritely written spoken word poem, and Anya Elnikova who tries too hard in her portrayal of an eccentric bag lady who was once a celebrated pianist.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Next Page: Vacuum
Dana Brooke and Chris Stack
star in Vacuum
(© Chris Goutman)
Playwright Arlene Hutton crams a lot of big ideas into the sharp and funny 90-minute play Vacuum, at the Cherry Lane Theatre. At the heart of the piece is a debate over the purpose of the health care industry.

As Jonathan (David Arrow), the head of a large health care conglomerate would argue, their responsibility is to their shareholders -- to create products (like anti-aging skin care cream) that people want to buy but not necessarily ones that will cure disease. Patricia (Polly Adams), a once well-respected dermatologist, has created a line of these products for Jonathan and is paid exceedingly well to do so and advertise them in commercials, which she shoots in exotic locations.

She doesn't think much of it until she meets a young research doctor, Grayson Campbell (Chris Stack), at a medical conference in the desert organized by their company. Grayson has discovered a cure for cancer, and he believes he's being brought to the conference to celebrate this discovery and figure out how to implement it in treatment around the world. It's not just a professional achievement for Grayson, as his work stems from a discovery his wife, Amelia (Dana Brooke) made before suffering a serious brain injury that has made her a shell of her former self.

When Jonathan's less altruistic plans become known, it unleashes a back and forth about the role money should play in healthcare between a number of the players including Grayson and his wife, who can't understand why he doesn't want to take the money and use it for their family. Sometimes Hutton's dialogue can be overwhelming because it's so loaded with information but push through and a substantial reward awaits.

-- Chris Kompanek

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