MITF Roundup #2
Reports on Savior, Good Opinions, Spit It Out!, and Feasting on Cardigans
Having seen a production of Savior last year at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater, I can promise you that Daniel R. O'Brien's three-character drama can be a lot more engrossing and believable than in Christopher Carter Sanderson's disappointing production. O'Brien has crafted a fairly interesting plot and characters, although his dialogue sometimes doesn't ring true. Patrick and Katie are troubled people in a troubled union. They both have unresolved issues from their unhappy childhoods: Katie is a shopaholic (which isn't a good thing when one is living on a teacher's salary) while Patrick still resents having to give up his dream of being a rock musician for a more stable job in telephone service.
Their marriage reaches a crisis point when Katie possibly becomes pregnant and Patrick's ex-movie-star brother Kevin reenters their lives, having written a damaging play about their family. By the end of 80 minutes, a very painful truth about the boys' past has resurfaced. That truth ultimately sets Patrick free to build a happier future, though Kevin's future remains highly doubtful.
Sanderson isn't entirely to blame for having trouble in bringing Savior to life on the tiny stage at the Workshop Jewel Box, but he bears responsibility for miscasting two of the three roles. Jy Murphy doesn't have the right physical menace for Patrick, nor does he fit the character's description as an ugly duckling. And Hillary Howard fails to make Katie's many mood swings believable. (Admittedly, this would be a tall order for any actress.) The only saving grace of this production is the charismatic and talented Jeff Barry in the role of Kevin. You know an actor is good when he makes a drug addict the most sympathetic person on stage. Barry is a performer to watch, even in this show.
Everyone's a critic -- especially in New York City. So it's not too surprising that Adele, the actress/coat check girl in Anne Fizzard's muddled comedy Good Opinions, has a lot of clever, accurate things to say about the Broadway shows she sees in previews. What is surprising is that her words show up verbatim in the The New York Times, in the reviews of that newspaper's (fictional) chief critic. Even more surprising is that Fizzard has created a 90-minute show around this premise yet failed to come up with any kind of believable explanation for it.
To some extent, Fizzard apparently knows whereof she speaks -- she is a former coat-check girl -- but she's a little fuzzy on certain matters. (Two helpful hints: Times critics never see Broadway shows on opening night, and few audience members will find the name of the theatrical P.R. firm Boneau-Bryan/Brown funny or even comprehensible.) Katrina Hilbe's direction, hindered in part by the necessity for several scene changes, ends up damaging whatever pacing there might be in the script.
Fortunately, there's some fine acting going on to keep things mildly interesting. Nicole Taylor is a most appealing Adele; former soap opera hunk Kevin Stapleton is affecting as Evan, the producer who uses Adele for her insight and ends up falling for her; Marc Geller and Andrew Dawson get their laughs as Evan's associates; and Joan Pelzer, sort of a cross between Sarah Jessica Parker and Ana Gasteyer, is properly bitchy as Evan's director/girlfriend Francine.
Amy Coleman has an amazing voice. Her soulful rendition of "House of the Rising Sun," which she sings in her and Valerie Smaldone's new musical Spit It Out!, is breathtaking. But the show itself needs a lot of work.
Spit It Out! chronicles the developing friendship between two women who meet at a health spa. Kara Angelo (Smaldone) is a successful TV personality, although she laments that what she does is "tabloid television" rather than real journalism. Hannah Cohen (Coleman), on the other hand, is a talented blues singer who plays at an assortment of low-end dives while waiting for her big break. Both of them have man problems, suffer from low self-esteem, and have sessions with a therapist.
The dialogue is often clunky; the personalities of the characters emerge through declarative statements that one of them makes about the other, rather than in a more subtle way. Neither Smaldone nor Coleman are particularly strong actors, and a few of their scenes are rather painful to watch as a result. The production also features Stephen Bienskie in a number of different roles, some of which he plays better than others; his singing bartender is quite good, but does he really need to rely on ethnic clichés for some of his other portrayals? Clad in a turban and employing a questionable South Asian accent, he's rather offernsive in one sequence as the manager of a catered affair.
The show includes several songs, most of which are original items co-written by Coleman. They're performed with the aid of an onstage band consisting of Donna Kelly (musical director-drummer), Andy Bassford (guitar), and Charlie Buckland (bass). "Things That Need Fixing" is a highlight, but most of the other tunes are forgettable. Under director Sarah Gurfield, Spit it Out! moves along in fits and starts.
An infestation of clothing moths hits New York City in Mark Eisman's delightfully off-beat play Feasting on Cardigans. Haff (Ian Pfister), an exterminator, is at the forefront of the battle, but he's not even able to save the wool sweaters of his fiancée Lenah (Kate Sandberg). Along with his exterminating partner, Rose-Marie (Virginia Callaway), he visits the homes of moth victims including Crescent (Andrea Gallo) and her teenage nephew, Duncan (Tyler Samuel Lee). The moth problem at their place seems largely localized around the wool suits of Duncan's father -- which is fine by Duncan, as his dad's in prison for killing his mother. "No need to tell the pest control people everything," says his aunt as Duncan shares these details of his life.
Perhaps it's needless to say that this play is not about the moths at all; it's about human relationships and what people actually want as opposed to what they say they want. For example, Haff and Lenah seem at first to be in perfect accord about everything, especially the fact that neither of them wants children. But Haff's interactions with Duncan have awakened in him an unexpected paternal instinct that's further complicated by Rose-Marie's desire to have a child -- with Haff as the sperm donor. Pfister is excellent, capturing the play's quirky rhythms. The rest of the ensemble, directed with aplomb by Amy Henault, is also quite good, although Sandberg occasionally seems tentative in her performance.
Eisman knows how to turn a phrase, provoking laughter without sacrificing dramatic impact or sentiment. In one heart-to-heart conversation between Haff and Duncan, the latter complains about being bullied at school. Haff's response: "Contrary to what people say, these are not the best years of your life." Now, those are words to live by!