Delicious Rivers, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review
Delicious Rivers

By Julia Furay

Donald Arnold loves a mystery almost as much as he loves canned spaghetti with the sauce washed off! --- Joe Hertz

Math, as it comes alive onstage in Delicious Rivers, isn't a clinical, formulaic beast at all. This quirky, curious, friendly play with music focuses on the oddities in patterns -- patterns of life, of math, and even of the postal system. And there are no easy answers. Math exemplifies the mysteries of Delicious Rivers, rather than solving them and it makes for a funny, touching evening.

The Talking Band production at LaMaMa tells the story of four postal workers and three of their frequent customers. At first the worlds of employee and customer are quite segregated. We see scenes hilariously duplicated from both perspectives as the patrons complain about the employees and vice versa. But these characters live in a New York at its most idiosyncratic: a place where neighbors make friends while waiting in line to send a package, andt soon after begin accidentally wandering into each other's apartments. Before long, they've all become pals.

The play's mysteries are introduced: along with the developing friendships. Does Sy (Chris Wells) have a long-lost brother? What's happened to Lorraine's (Kim Gambino) apartment? And just who is this geeky Donald Arnold guy (Gary Brownlee) who stares at people through their post office boxes and gives them seashells?

There are also recurring puzzles that are less reality based such as the projections of Penrose tiles upon the post office. boxes and repeated mentions of the Fibonacci sequence. To deal with all these mysteries characters repeat phrases, actions and even entire snatches of conversation in an attempt to find a pattern or a blueprint to explain what's going on in their lives.

Director Paul Zimmet's production highlights the play's heavy reliance on reiteration physically, as well. Numerous heavily choreographed movements echo the script's search for patterns; for instance, neighbors Lorraine, Sy and Irma (Jan Leslie Harding) each repeat a personal set of movements every time they head for their post office box and begin hunting for their key which adds a rhythmic vigor to the piece. The concept is well-served by the physical backdrop (designed by Nic Ularu): just three doors, a park bench and a wall of postal . boxes that combine to create a myriad of settings all over the neighborhood.

Adding to the performers' sense of inquisitive energy and playfulness is playwright/composer Ellen Maddow's upbeat, jazzy score, performed by a three-piece bass combo (voice, fiddle and trombone). The music also helps to prevent the mantra-like repetition of phrases like "I could've, but I didn't" and "All you have to do is the math" from sounding like a broken record. Without the lively score, the play would wear out its welcome before the end of its 90-minute run time.

What really clinches the success of this production is the cast who portray Maddow's kooky, thoughtful characters. The performers click beautifully with both the material and each other, whether they're discussing mysteries or amusingly venting about an ugly sweater. Especially effective is Mary Shultz as Lily, a drab post office employee who gradually finds confidence and friendship despite her strange demons. She and her colleagues smartly balance oddball with intelligent so that you're overwhelmed by neither, but touched and amused by both. And at $15 a ticket, who says that theater is unaffordable?

Written and composed by Ellen Maddow Directed
by Paul Zimet
Cast: Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, Gary Brownlee, Kim Gambino, Jan Leslie harding, Mark Kaczmarczyk, Sam Kulik, Cortez Nance Jr., Mary Shultz, Jay Smith, Chris Wells
Set Design: Nic Ularu
Costume Design: Kiki Smith
Lighting Design: Carol Mullins
Animations: Anna Kiraly

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission.
La MaMa, 74A E. Fourth Street,, 212-475-7710
From January 13- February 5, 2006
Friday at 10pm, Saturday at 5:30 and 10pm, Sunday at 5:30pm
Tickets: $15
Reviewed Julia Furay based on January 20 performance.
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