Tina Benko, Matthew Lawler
Rough Sketch, now playing at 59E59 Theaters, is an often hilarious antidote to the formulaic romantic comedies that populate films today. The play, written by Shawn Nacol and directed by Ian Morgan, is so very good when it is working, that its flaws are exposed as all the more glaring during the moments when the show doesnt work.
Rough Sketch is a two person piece, which takes place over the time period from Christmas to New Years. The time period is important because the plays location is an animation studio, effectively closed for the holidays, giving the two characters plenty of time and privacy to interact.
Matthew Lawler plays Dex, a brilliant, but burned out animator, who has been staying at the studio and working to avoid the memories of his ex-wife and child. And Dex is no romantic lead out of central casting; he’s frumpy, losing his hair and does not take care of his body, but Matthew Lawler still brings Dex a great deal of charm and a wry smile. He is hesitant and a little dejected, but Dex is ready to open up again.
Tina Benko plays Barbara, the other animator, who has come to work to finish a sequence while no one else is around. Barbara is an obsessive compulsive computer whiz who travels with her own food supplies and water. She is tightly wound, terribly insecure, and unable to decipher secondary meanings behind words. Tina Benko is fall-down funny in the role, pulling it off completely. The character is so annoying that it really doesnt make sense that this person would ever get this particular job, but that is only a minor quibble. Ms. Benko also pulls off the difficult task of surprising the audience constantly but never going too far over the top.
Rough Sketch covers a week and purposefully builds claustrophobia in both space and time for these two people. The problem with this play in the theatre is that it often feels too long. The pace moves between manic and mind-numbing and back to manic, and the effect is jarring, growing intrinsic only after the first few times. After the first few, the quiet and still tableau scenes are just annoying. The director could have trimmed the show down considerably and removed the intermission and the play would have been more effective.
The actual performance space is also problematic. Some of the action, and many of the tableaus, occur on the floor, which is almost impossible to see from half of the seats in the theater.
Finally, Rough Sketch passed the perfect place to stop. Very late in the show, there is a scene that ends on a note of beautiful ambiguity, tension, love, anger and distrust. I wanted to jump up and applaud. And then the play stumbled onward for a little while longer toward an ending that wasnt ambiguous at all. Rough Sketch was not an easy journey of love and courtship, but it was often enthralling. The ending, however, was perhaps just too tidy.