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Midtown International Theatre Festival 2010 Roundup #1

Reports on Never Norman Rockwell, Ten Reasons I Won't Go Home With You, and The Gospel According to Josh.

DR Mann Hanson and Austin Mitchell
in Never Norman Rockwell
(© Sam Morris)
[Ed. Note: This is the first of two review roundups for the 2010 Midtown International Theatre Festival.]

There are several truly funny lines scattered about in Kyle Baxter's "bromantic" comedy, Never Norman Rockwell, at the Beckett Theater. However, an uneven cast and some clunky playwriting threaten to derail this modestly charming piece.

Things start off well as lovers Mark (DR Mann Hanson) and Jack (Austin Mitchell) banter about the latter's video gaming habits and comic book collecting. The two have been sleeping together off and on for about a year, although the closeted Jack has been reluctant to call it dating. In fact, Jack might very well have a crush on his straight roommate Dan (Dan Belmont), who is about to get married.

Complications ensue once Mark is revealed to be the brother of Dan's fiancée Shelly (Sarah Barry). Also added into the mix are Mark and Shelley's father George (Michael Selkirk) and Dan's parents Blanche (Elizabeth Allerton) and Fred (Paul Bellantoni). Unfortunately, of these supporting players, only Selkirk manages to make a favorable impression.

The play is at its best when exploring the mixed emotions that Dan feels. He's long suspected his friend was gay, so he's on the one hand glad that Jack has finally confided in him, but simultaneously angry that it's taken him this long to do it, and that the news takes focus from Dan's impending nuptials. Belmont handles Dan's shifting moods well and nicely milks the comedy out of the script. Meanwhile, Mitchell has a good rapport with both of his leading men, and the production tends to drag a bit whenever he's not onstage.

Director Anthony Gargano could do more to smooth transitions. And while some of Baxter's dialogue has zip, too much of it feels forced. In particular, when the playwright finally gets around to using the play's title in the actual lines, it feels unnecessarily awkward.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Kelly Nichols and Marvin Riggins Jr. in
Ten Reasons I Won't Go Home With You
(© Roe Ola)
Much like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, Katie (Kelly Nichols) endures a litany of bad dates in her search for "Mr. Right" in the new musical Ten Reasons I Won't Go Home With You, playing at the June Havoc Theatre. And while the piece has some cute moments, there are never enough to make theatergoers fall in love with it.

Nichols, who's also written the book, has a pluckiness that engages, particularly when she's delivering some of Katie's sardonic asides, but her vocals are unequal to the challenges of the show's score, which has been provided by a variety of songwriting teams. As bookwriter, she has more success, supplying some clever situations for the hapless heroine, such as an early date with Jon (Marvin Riggins, Jr. in one of several roles), who shows up with a frog puppet to speak for him, and a later semi-date with Lord of the Rings freak Jacob (the consistently winning and also multiply cast Ryan Stadler).

Unfortunately, the varied scenarios never cohere into anything more than a series of interrelated sketches, particularly in director Billy Mitchell's almost casually nonchalant staging. Further, Nichols has created a central character who seems almost willfully schizophrenic. Katie veers from complete lack of self-awareness and blind codependency to moments of shrewd and erudite insight.

Similarly, the score varies wildly, from the merely insipid -- Phillip Chernyak and Blake Hackler's paean to bad pickup lines, "Pizza and Sex" -- to the touching: Steven Silverstein and Hackler's sweet, dungeon and dragons-inspired "Capture a Queen." Equally compelling, and not easily categorized, is Jason Purdy's "Warm-Up," which intriguingly combines original lyrics with tongue-twisters, and actors' vocal warm-ups to create something completely original. It's moments like these when love at first sight in the theater is indeed possible.

-- Andy Propst

Joshua Rivedal

Joshua Rivedal once auditioned for a film by getting on top of the movie's director and pretending to eat his flesh. That's just one of the tales that the writer/performer shares in the mildly amusing and presumably autobiographical The Gospel According to Josh, at the Dorothy Streslin Theatre.

The solo performance tracks equally Rivendal's attempts to become a Hollywood star and his love/hate relationship with his conservative Christian father. Unfortunately, it tends to stay on a fairly superficial level for the majority of the hour-long show, and then tries to end on a charged emotional note that feels out of keeping with what's come before.

As a performer, Rivedal certainly has a lot of energy and some of his anecdotes are sure to inspire a few chuckles. But he and director Josh Gaboian tend to caricature all of the supporting characters in the story, including that of Rivedal's father. And although the title would seem to indicate that issues of religion would form a major part of the tale, the show's treatment of the subject is also surprisingly shallow.

-- Dan Bacalzo


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