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A CurtainUp Review
By Summer Banks
This list alone should make the Cell Theatre Company's production of Nancy Manocherian's Guilty one of the edgiest plays in New York, but even with the inclusion of all the above, it falls disappointingly short of shocking. Instead all it leaves is an impression of frustration.
The ninety minute one-act is ostensibly about a man named Rich who's going to court for white-collar crime. But the man himself never appears on stage, and is only an afterthought in the conversations of his friends. The play's action centers on his friends and their own struggles with privilege, sex and success.
The metaphorical curtain opens on a funeral for a beloved friend. The family dog of Jake (Ned Massey) and Laura (Heather Kenzie) has passed away, and the overly dramatic and morbid Lindsey (Tracee Chimo), daughter of the infamous Rich, is carefully staging a funeral. This is our introduction to the cast of characters: Jake is the inattentive husband of a pouting Laura; Adam (Darnell Williams) is sexually frustrated and his wife Dori (Glory Gallo) is preoccupied with her own numbness. Marcie, Rich's wife, serves more as comic relief and a way of connecting Rich to the plot than as a character in her own right.
The subsequent scenelets are constructed with soap opera style gossip that achieves a surrealistic level of insight into human motivations for pillow talk or beach lunches. Instead of exploring any one issue we have so many stuffed into each moment (body image, child bearing, love, marriage, homosexuality, affairs, art, intellectual property, need, desire, drugs, pills, mental health) that the dialogue seems like an experiment in intellectualizing sexual frustration.
Because no topic is followed through to its conclusion, each feels cheated. Guilty tries to be edgy on so many sides that it's almost round. But the play has its moments. It could have been somehow liberating to see female masturbation portrayed on stage as a counterpoint to a pop culture that has been supersaturated with horny teenage boys. However, here it appears so out of context that it feels false and somehow cheap, which is actually perfect at that moment in the character's development. The actors are very comfortable with each other — a happy consequence of Cell Theater's mission to creating organically structured theater, even though this level of comfort undermines some of the relationships. Williams as Adam is at times absolutely hilarious, with his impression of a dog dying from eating cake the show's best bit. The willingness of Chimo, Gallo and Kenzie to explore/expose their skin contributes to the play's examination of the female body and the complexes all women have with it.
Unfortunately Jason A. Bishop's costumes don't have the right look of wealth. Tim McMath's sleek set design is just chintzy enough to connote money's false front, but it's too open to create any feeling of intimacy. Guilty does succeed in keeping the audience engaged if only to find out what incomprehensible event will happen next. At the same time, it's such a barrage of hot-button topics that it would be a welcome relief for it to end a couple of plot twists sooner. With a little more focus and fleshing out of each character, this meditation on love and marriage, bodies and sensation might become meaningful rather than just presentable.
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