On Thursday, August 19th, I took in a marathon evening of shows. After a string of fascinating shows early in the week, I was pleased to see my streak of luck continue, for the most part.
Below are my thoughts on three very different shows – two plays and one musical. To be sure, it was a full night of theatre.
written and directed by Chad Beckim
The Robert Moss Theatre
First up this evening was Cookie, a smart dramatic comedy by Chad Beckim chronicling a frenzied period in the life of writer Alan (Vincent Madero), whose friend Franklin (Ryan Christopher Kim) sets him up with a mail order bride as a way of settling his mounting credit card debts.
Alan’s doting sister Charlie (the very funny Cynthia Silver), try though she may to help the situation, comes to Alan’s apartment mostly to tidy up the place and fetch his laundry, but also to force Alan and his bride to watch a series of online videos she’s made involving her dancing cats, including a Gwen Stefani outtake featuring the lyrics, “I ain’t no hollaback cat.” Obviously, Alan’s life is in need of improvement.
Beckim’s writing is sharp throughout; the play boldly takes on themes of race, particularly in a dream sequence scene involving Alan’s unrealistic, stereotypical expectations of his Asian soon-to-be bride. The fanciful segment finds Alan learning Japanese and adorning his house with tactlessly chosen Asian ornaments. Of course, once she arrives she’s far from what he expects, and it’s the breaking of those expectations that lends Cookie its primary pleasures. Unable to pronounce his bride’s name, he calls her simply “Cookie” (a name she “fucking hates”). But over time, a bond develops between the two, threatening to interfere with their businesslike arrangement.
Beckim’s direction is as accomplished as his writing. He uses the smart device of quick blackouts at the ends of scenes to create button endings that really work in the favor of his short, pointed scenes. Though Beckim could have delved deeper into the underbelly of the theme of race, his play is topical and well-conceived. And even despite an ending that feels more inconclusive than satisfying, Cookie is still worth a viewing for the sheer delight of witnessing a fine cast take on Beckim’s spunky, promising new play.
Bottom Line: MUST SEE
Remaining Shows: SAT 21 @ 7, SUN 22 @ 4:30, WED 25 @ 5, FRI 27 @ 7:45
by Kevin McHatten, directed by James Phillip Gates
Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre
With a table and two chairs, Kevin McHatten’s new play Terror SuperHighway manages to pack quite a hefty wallop. This four-character play was next up on my evening’s agenda, and I arrived to the theatre free of expectations only to stumble upon a smart, spartan, and high-octane play about the ways technology have affected the ethics of our society in both political and personal spectrums.
McHatten’s play begins with an unexplained interrogation. Jamison Marks has been detained, but he hasn’t been informed as to why he’s in government custody, and he’s not about to lend his cooperation to any of the agents assigned to his case.
Tyler Moss plays Jamison, a loner and computer geek who joins an internet dating site and ends up embroiled in an international terrorist ring purely by accident (or was it an accident after all?). First he’s interrogated by Agent Coleman (Gerard Joseph), a tall, lanky man pushes Jamison’s buttons with aplomb, inspiring plenty of borderline-racist talk and generating a sense of comprehensive unease and suspicion.
When Jamison breaks down, Agent Mane (Tracy Hostmyer) takes over, and the tone of the play shifts drastically. Using her feminine wiles, Mane relates to Jamison on a personal level. A divorcee, she can understand his frustration with dating and relationships. She confides in him, and, as a result he opens up, begins to grow calmer. It’s during this segment of the play that its pacing begins to sag. McHatten’s dialogue loses its crisp, snappy flair and indulges in stretches of preachiness and platitudes.
This change in tone does, in part, reflect the themes of the play, however. And, by the final quarter of the play, the pacing has tightened again. As Jamison’s circumstances appear more and more dire, Agent Mane’s offers of escape give way to hopelessness and our protagonist commits a final act that shocks and provokes discussion. For its flaws, Terror SuperHighway possesses an uncommon forthrightness that, coupled with sound direction by James Phillip Gates and a cast of fine actors, makes it well worth a visit for those interested in serious drama.
Bottom Line: SEE IT, if you like serious, politically motivated drama
Remaining Shows: FRI 27 @ 3:45
book by Will Holt & Bruce Vilanch, music by Gary William Friedman, lyrics by Will Holt, directed by Ben West
Lucille Lortel Theatre
My eventful evening concluded with the 11:30 PM showing of the musical Platinum, one of the shows in this year’s Fringe that I’d been most eagerly anticipating. Originally premiering on Broadway in 1978 with Alexis Smith in the lead role, Platinum was a huge flop, lasting for only 12 previews and 33 performances.
The musical, which, at least in its current incarnation, is closer to a concept musical than a traditional book show, focuses on faded actress Lila Halliday. A huge box office movie star in the 1940s, Lila Halliday, now in her fifties, is looking for a comeback. She’s recording in the studio of Jeff Rollins (Bruce Sabath), a huge record producer with whom she has a romantic history, but she’s unwilling to let him turn Destiny, one of her 1940s hits, into a disco tune, so she walks out on her session, unsure of what comes next.
Of course, this being a musical – and, in this case, one that deals in an array of cliches – young up-and-comer Crystal Mason walks right into the studio and steals her hit. Lila, dejected, gives Crystal a piece of her mind but ends up romancing Dan Riley, a rock star who’s just past his prime in his early thirties. He’s loved Lila since hc can remember, and something about her vulnerable state brings them together – as lovers and creative partners – only to be torn apart again.
If all of this sounds tremendously campy, it would be, if Platinum didn’t take itself so seriously. The show, which has been revised and directed by Ben West, clocks in at a sleek ninety minutes but doesn’t quite know what to do with itself throughout. This particular property, it seems to me, is one of the most obvious choices for a tongue-in-cheek interpretation but is perhaps not iconic enough to stand up to that treatment.
Donna Bullock shines in the role of Lila, singing her heart out and having a generally good time spitting Will Holt and Bruce Vilanch’s ludicrously serious lines about the music biz. She perfectly embodies the swagger of a 40s film star, matched by the affable Jay Wilkison as Dan Riley and Wayne Wilcox as Jamie Bradbury, a wannabe songwriter who’s stuck operating the studio’s sound board. But Sarah Litzsinger grates as Crystal Mason and seems slightly miscast as a pop songstress in her early twenties.
Platinum is by no means a disaster. There are a handful of knockout numbers – including the rollicking Sunset City, Destiny (in both its 1940s and disco incarnations), and the showstopping finale, This One’s for Me, which emits a vibe somewhat similar to a 1970s Rose’s Turn (sans serious dramatic motivation). The vital problem of this production comes in the form of its sparse piano accompaniment. The score, by Gary William Friedman and Will Holt, has a fun time straddling the old-timey plunky tunes of the 1940s and the disco beat of the 70s, but without some drums, guitar, and synth, it’s difficult to appreciate some of the show’s more lively numbers, as well-written as they may be.
Bottom Line: SKIP IT, unless you really love flop musicals
Remaining Shows: SAT 21 @ 9:15
For more information about the New York International Fringe Festival, visit fringenyc.org.