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Bass for Picasso

Kate Moira Ryan's new play about a Manhattan dinner party has some funny lines and outrageous situations, but ultimately doesn't succeed. logo
Mary Theresa Archbold, Terry Small, Nicholas Viselli,
Felice Neals, and Anita Hollander in Bass for Picasso
(© Carol Rosegg)
Kate Moira Ryan's two most recent Off-Broadway hits, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles and 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, were joint efforts with talented women, but she has gone in a new direction with her new work, Bass for Picasso, an 80-minute dark comedy now being presented by Theater Breaking Through Barriers at the Kirk Theatre. In a recent interview, Ryan stated that she was aiming for a "traditional, crazy Moss Hart dinner-party play." Unfortunately, taking inspiration from a writer who is not only male -- but has been dead for nearly half a century -- has led to a less successful offering.

Ryan has stirred some extraordinarily politically incorrect situations into her mix -- as well as a slew of one-liners, some of which are quite funny. And while the production is in keeping with TBTB's mission of casting disabled actors, be advised that barriers of good taste are also being attacked here.

Ryan's dinner party consists of some bitingly unpleasant people who reside in the current New York lesbian and gay cultural scene -- most of whom come across as little more than shallow cartoons. The main exception is Bricka (Mary Theresa Archbold), a New York-based lesbian playwright in her early 40s who is raising a young son. Whereas much of the dark humor in the script gets delivered with clouds of poisonous gas, Bricka's edgiest lines have a way of bouncing back at her in endearing ways.

While Archbold gives the evening's best performance, Bricka's relationships with fellow playwright and best friend Kev (Terry Small), and Pilar (Felice Neals) a lesbian nincompoop from Europe with whom Bricka is flirting outrageously, lack dynamism. Ryan's often stilted dialogue and the sluggish pace of Ike Schambelan's direction are partially to blame.

Small has a strong presence but is unable to rise above his utterly unlikeable character. Neals captures the occasionally charming airheadedness of Pilar, but her timing often needs to be sharper. Two other actors are even more disappointing. Both Anita Hollander as Francesca, the main hostess of the evening who is trying valiantly to prepare the eponymous bass, and Nicholas Viselli as Joe, a late arrival to the festivities, telegraph their characters' anger but leave out the subtleties.

Undoubtedly, Ryan loves her child as fiercely as Bricka does hers. But the playwright clearly has some parental issues to unload. Just be assured that she doesn't merely unload on gay and lesbian parents; she goes to horrific lengths to give awful heterosexual parents their due as well. Still, the whole enterprise comes across less like Moss Hart and more like a clumsy, queer version of TV's late, unlamented Married With Children.

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