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A CurtainUp Review
We feel for them, because they certainly do try. Yet, while each play has its moments, I think we're really meant to sit back and just go "Wow!" Wow from the sex, or from the sex talk. Wow from the verbal and physical violence. Wow from the fact that the male characters love to take off their pants and get nude without any seeming provocation. When we're through saying"wow," we're not left with a whole lot from either playwright.
If this weres a concert, I suppose Ahonen's play would be the opening act. In Pink Knees on Pale Skin a fraudulent, self-loathing and arguably evil sex counselor, Dr. Sarah Bauer (the deliciously icy cold Sarah Lemp),"saves" couples' marriages by making them have sex with each other, or with her own husband, Leroy (Jordan Tisdale), who hides under the bed for most of the play. Like Leroy, the play never really gets too far. Ahonen introduces characters and plots as frantic filler, perhaps sensing that his conceit is running out of gas. While he writes in the program that he "really cares] about these characters," and that he hopes "you really care about them too," you won't. That's because, with the exception of one, introduced solely to pull heartstrings and beef up what is essentially a serious farce, they're mostly puddle deep. Yet, there is one performer who almost makes us believe the ridiculous story, and that's the highly strung and emotional Vanessa Vache as Caroline Wyatt, a lawyer trying to save her marriage to her cheating cardiac surgeon husband, Robert (James Kautz).
The productions' gimmickry is all a bit precious, yet still clever. The plays are held in a very large suite with huge ceilings — did giant people once live here? — dilapidated by time, and only twenty people are permitted into each performance. Each "guest" is given a hotel key card and then summoned, by name and ushered one by one to the suite by a hot looking actor who thanks the guests for choosing the Gershwin (for some reason he also ends up half nude). A pianist dressed like a character in a western plays a mournful tune and the room feels somewhat grimy.
As luck would have it, I was seated first. this gave me the chance to watch the uneasiness of my evening's compatriots, many of whom were also critics, as they were seated around the large bed in the room. This was obviously by brilliant design of Ahonen and Rapp, both of whom direct their respective pieces.
The New York premiere of Rapp's Animals and Plants is the more ambitious of the two plays, and proves to be the more spectacular failure. Dantly (William Apps) and Burris (Matthew Pilieci) are two dopey low-level drug couriers stuck in a messy and claustrophobic motel room in Boone, North Carolina during a vicious snowstorm. The lethargic Dantly wears some sort of clown wig and occasionally utters profundities which, after many torturous diversions, turn out to be the meat of the play. But, the pair's interminable Beavis and Butthead shtick, though sometimes entertaining, soon wears thin.
With occasional laughs, Animals and Plants, essentially a ghost story, remains an aimless searching for its meaning, weighed down by its own layers of metaphor.
Rapp's play, which according to his program notes was written when he was thirty, often feels like juvenilia. He tosses in some sick violence and all sorts of magical realism, including a mountain man in a bear skin who hovers around the action with a machete and sometimes yodels (Is he a bear? Is he a man? A bear man?). In the end, it's all as weightless as the snow that special effects designer Jeremy Chernick so beautifully drops on the audience as we leave the play.
For more about what to expect check out this YouTube trailer.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company