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The Chaos Theories

Alexander Dinelaris' play, set in and around a posh New York City restaurant, is both hilarious and disturbing. logo
Alison Fraser in The Chaos Theories
(© Evan Cohen)
Frequently hilarious and, at times, disturbing, Alexander Dinelaris' The Chaos Theories is set in and around a posh New York City restaurant. The show -- presented by Shotgun Productions at the McGinn/Cazale Theater -- is composed of short scenes, related only by virtue of their location. While the script's characterizations are often extremely broad, and several of the scenes' outcomes predictable, the game cast members attack the roles with a winning zestfulness.

The play gets off to a great start with a conversation outside the restaurant between an actress (Maryann Towne) and a man who may or may not be stalking her (Ted Koch). The encounter is unsettling, yet contains some surprisingly tender moments. We're soon shifted indoors, where a snide waiter (Max Darwin) serves drinks to a variety of characters including an obnoxious stockbroker (Darcie Siciliano), a tyrannical father (Richard Bekins), a woman bleeding from her forehead (Amanda Mantovani), and a playwright (Todd Gearhart) meeting with a powerful Hollywood producer (Alison Fraser).

Darwin is the only cast member to play just one role throughout. The rest keep popping offstage, only to return in a different outfit (costumes are by Bobby Pearce), signifying a change in character. Co-directed by Dinelaris and Stewart M. Schulman, the production makes each of these shifts clear and the transformations are sometimes so complete that it's not until later when reading your program that you may realize that some of the parts were portrayed by the same actor.

Fraser gets the showiest role as the ball-busting producer. Granted, storylines about a Hollywood mover-and-shaker who seeks to tempt and corrupt an innocent New York playwright have been done to death in works such as the recent Broadway play The Little Dog Laughed. But Fraser's over-the-top performance keeps the audience in stitches, anyway. She's less successful as an equally overdone archetype, the somewhat addled homeless woman who hears voices. Fraser commits wholeheartedly to the portrayal, but there just isn't much there to develop.

Bekins' father character is effectively understated in his interactions with his wife (Towne), which makes it all the more surprising -- and funny -- when he starts casually insulting and threatening his daughter's boyfriend (Gearhart) after the women have left the table. Another highlight is a brilliant monologue that goes on numerous tangents, delivered by Mantovani to her increasingly frustrated companion (Siciliano), who has taken time out of a busy work day to help her friend through her most recent crisis.

Darwin also makes a good impression. The waiter's witty repartee with his various customers is comically endearing, which makes it a rather sad occasion when his sarcastic demeanor is tempered by a humiliating act that the producer makes him perform, with the promise that she might actually read the waiter/aspiring writer's screenplay.

The majority of the scenarios depicted don't end happily, and the dark comedy emphasizes the petty and mean-spirited behavior of its characters. There are a few glimmers of hope -- such as the kindness a few of the people show towards the homeless woman -- but the play's sudden and shocking conclusion bespeaks a much bleaker worldview.

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