Saturday, August 22, 2009

Recent Theater

We've only been to two plays so far this month, which is unusual. It's all the more surprising because August is the month of fringenyc, which boasts more than 200 shows on its website this year. For whatever reason, we've received surprisingly few invitations to shows, fringe or otherwise, this month: we're seeing our friend Trav S.D.'s musical this afternoon, Eric C. Bailey in a show at the Brick on Tuesday and Richard Caliban's new project on the 30th but those are the only shows in my calendar until we go to Philadelphia. To be sure, Catherine looked through the fringenyc program guide and found other productions by people we know, so it's possible that more postcards may be winging their way to our mailbox. However, they haven't arrived yet and if someone doesn't actually invite us to see their work, I feel less obligation to attend.

Josh Koenigsberg's Al's Business Cards begins with a fairly benign event: Al Gurvis, a decent, hard-working gaffer living in NJ is mistakenly given someone else's business cards by his printer. It's the kind of thing that could happen in real life to anyone, at any time, anywhere: no big deal, really. Somehow, this innocuous mistake begets another simple mistake, which begets a misunderstanding, which begets a misinterpretation, all of which eventually leaves Al totally... begotten. It's a very funny play and Koenigsberg does an excellent job of allowing each of these errors to build in such a way that you think it could all be resolved once a key piece of information reaches the right character... but that never quite seems to happen. The dialogue and situation are very natural without being predictable and the production is simply and smoothly directed by Lauren Keating. The actors all give fine performances, especially Azhar Khan as Al and Bobby Moreno as Al's goofy (if somewhat racist) co-worker.

Inferno: the New Rock Musical, on the other hand, is just a mess. If Rick Merino had just been satisfied with writing all of the songs and playing the narrator, Dante, it might have worked; his music is slightly derivative—mostly metal, sometimes grunge-ish, with the occasional alt-rock number tossed in from time to time—but it's engaging and well-performed by the six band members and three actors. Unfortunately, Merino also tried to direct the production: this is almost never a good choice. The ensemble—Leslie Segan, Adam Poslunszny and Buzz Cartier—have been given the task of playing everyone except Dante and the underworld guide, Virgil (Sean Jeans), by donning dozens of different masks, wigs and costume pieces that make the piece feel like an ad for Halloween Adventure;* as their masks are all generic monsters and not at all specific to the cantos in which they appear, it's impossible to know how their characters differ from one circle of Hell to the next (I haven't read The Inferno but I have to think that's an important progression in the book). The hard-working trio also spend as much time rushing to and from the dressing room stage right to change clothes as they do onstage performing; I was exhausted just watching them. There's a good piece in here somewhere, I think: if it had been performed as a concert, without the half-hearted attempts at staging, it would be much more enjoyable. Instead, it comes off as under-rehearsed, ill-considered and amateurish.

*Actually, since he clearly spent a lot of money at the store, Merino should approach the owners about a product placement deal for his show. I could envision a series of music videos to show all of these costumes in action...

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