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A CurtainUp Review
The play revolves around Long Island landscaper Bob Malone (Robert Ierardi) who after being bowled overby an outdoor production in Central Park of Loves' Labour's Lost that he decides to ink his own play about his troubled marriage. To take it from the page to stage he hires two recalcitrant theater professionals to be his houseguests for a week's workshop which is then staged in his garage with locals in the cast.
You've got to hand it to Palmieri for dreaming up his highly original premise. He's not reworking Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost per se—but uses it as a reference and borrows its traditional play-within-a play device to suit his own theatrical purposes.
In case you don't have your Shakespeare glossary on hand, the title is an Elizabethan theater term, coined during the Renaissance. And, as described by Dodd (Brian Barnhart), the director of Bob's play, in an impromptu theater lesson to the naïve cast members: "Groundlings would watch the play standing, looking up at the stage, from the ground. . . the regular folk." By extension, Palmieri, is indirectly referring to the"regular folk" who populate his own play-in-process.
Much of the fun here is in watching the amateur playwright and his fledgling actors, slowly discovering theater and themselves. Little goes smoothly! Bob's dialogue is mostly rhymed doggerel, except for the Shakespeare lines he's"peppered in to elevate his own pedestrian (and unconsciously comical) language. Watching the dialogue being stiffly recited by the newbies adds to the fun. The one hired cast member, Victoria Evans (Kendall Rileigh), adds a touch of professionalism.
Palmieri's is of course all about being involved in something like his play can help ordinary folks discover and appreciate theater. And so, when Bob's recruits are not actually rehearsing on his makeshift black-box theater stage, they are bonding. The back stage situation does get a bit shaky on one occasion when the lead actors, Pete (Benjamin Russell) and Victoria, start drinking beer and smoking marijuana into the wee morning hours causing a crisis between Bob's wife Karen and Veronica and endangering the production. But Victoria's tact saves the day.
All the other characters in The Groundling are grappling with their own human foibles, and trying to gain a fresh perspective on life and the seven-member ensemble not only handle all this ably but seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. These actors playing actors dynamically mirror the"Nine Worthies" playlet in Love's Labour's Lost, in Act 5. They also inventively double in the gender bending parts.
Chad Yarborough's set design — a foldable café table and scattered chairs — in collaboration with David Zeffren's lighting, is fittingly plain. In fact, it looks just like a suburban garage that typically would have an SUV or two occupying its space. Karl Ruckdeschel outfits everybody in ordinary clothes.
Palmieri wisely steers clear of a trite happily-ever-after denouement here. And his dark comedy, like those raw final moments in Loves's Labour's Lost becomes more convincing for what it doesn't overtly state or attempt to neatly resolve.
, The Groundlings is just the breath of fresh air anyone looking for a less high-brow staging of the Bard's masterpieces.