Gina Gionfriddo's often hilarious play about a diverse group of New Yorkers is given an uneven New York premiere.
The show revolves around best friends and recent college grads Allison (Tanya Fischer) and Angela (Lisa Joyce), who find that making a living in New York City isn't so easy. "It's hard to work for a little when what you want is a lot," comments Allison. When they find out there's a substantial monetary reward for information leading to the capture of a mysterious serial attacker named Ed, they believe they've found their gravy train.
They join an organization called S.A.F.E. (Stay Away From Ed), led by the nerdily awkward Evan (Lucas Papaelias), and which comes to include the crime-obsessed James (James Martinez), writer Christopher (Logan Marshall-Green), and one of Ed's victims, Mary (Audrey Lynn Weston). Rounding out the cast are Matthew Stadelmann as the girls' landlord Ned, and Rebecca Henderson, who plays multiple roles throughout the piece.
As in her previous play After Ashley, seen at the Vineyard in 2005, Gionfriddo is concerned with the culture of victimization and the media celebrity surrounding it. U.S. Drag, however, is more broadly satirical. James' obsession with victims includes keeping a rather grisly scrapbook and bringing food to the families of people who've been attacked. Christopher wrote a "creative non-fiction" novel about the abuse he endured as a child, all of which only occurred in his head. And one of Allison's funniest moments involves bemoaning the fact that people who knew Jon Benet Ramsey wound up getting all sorts of lucrative deals not because they did anything special, but because they just happened to know the murder victim.
The playwright's dialogue is over-the-top and witty, with several juicy bon mots tossed out throughout the 90-minute play. Yet, it also starts to sag about three-quarters of the way through, as the shallow protagonists are only amusing up to a point. A more complex character development is called for, but the production doesn't receive it.
If Fischer and Joyce were encouraged to dig deeper into their roles, they might be able to bring out a few more shades. As it is, they offer little variety in their portrayals, although what they do enact is often very funny. Marshall-Green, on the other hand, delivers a nuanced portrait that is simultaneously comic and emotionally grounded. The remaining cast members are fairly caricaturish, although Weston shines in an awkward date between Mary and Ned, while Henderson gives a chilling performance in her final scene.
Designer Nicole Pearce seems determined to blind the audience with a rapid succession of lights shining directly in the audience's eyes during scene changes, which also feature loud, industrial music from sound designer Bart Fasbender. Sandra Goldmark's set eschews walls for a playing area that simultaneously represents a number of different locales with the same furniture and set pieces used throughout. None of this is all that effective, and contributes to a production that doesn't quite cohere as tightly as it should.