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A CurtainUp Review
Losing Ground

by Les Gutman
...if you got ... one foot in the past, and one in the future, your pissin' all over today.

Monique Vukovic, Kendall Pigg and Eileen O'Connell
M. Vukovic, K. Pigg and E. O'Connell (Photo: Bryan Wizemann)

Every cloud may have a silver lining, but it is equally true that behind everything glitzy, one can find tarnish. And so it is in Las Vegas, where in the shadows of the sparkling "Strip" one finds many places like the down-and-out video poker bar, Office 5, in which Losing Ground is set.

Bryan Wizemann's new play is the latest of a series of works presented at Tom Noonan's Paradise Theater, each of which is the product of his workshops. (The last two entries, recently reviewed, are linked below.) It's also the most Noonan-esque, by which is meant that it is set in real time and place. (E.g., see our review of his play Wang Dang, also linked below.) In this case, that's about an hour and a quarter in the "life" of this dingy bar. (Lighting, as is also typical, is ambient, which in this case means dim -- the production supplies little beyond the heavily gelled spots, illuminated beer advertisements, a small ATM machine, under-bar lights and the reflection of video screens that one would expect to find in this sort of dive.)

Kieran (Kendall Pigg), the bartender, his routine painfully so, holds down the fort at Office 5 as a parade of hapless regulars compulsively return. (Drinks are free, as is the custom, as long as you gamble.) On this day, Michelle (Eileen O'Connell) is the first to arrive and is still there at play's end. Her story is elusive, not clarified until late in the play, but it is essential. Marty's (Monique Vukovic) situation is more obvious: a divorced mother who lost her child in a custody dispute, seeks fortune to regain her child's attention. The two share bar-level camaraderie and a coke habit. Into this mix come a pair of gambling addicts, James (Mark Meyer), a rough-edged young man, and his girlfriend, Reagan (Rhonda Keyser), on whom Kieran showers an unhealthy amount of attention, and a pair who, in different ways, seem to rise above the prevailing downward spiral: Turner (John Good), who has something none of the rest of the group seem to have -- luck, and Paul (Matthieu Cornillon), who is truly the odd man out -- he doesn't gamble. There's not a huge amount of action. There is no Hickey to liven things up as in The Iceman Cometh, nor is a parade of funny characters as in Cheers. Yet there is something compelling in the story-telling. Losing Ground is a perceptively-wrought piece that asks us to give it its brief time to unfold naturally, rewarding our patience with a telling portrait that never compromises its inherent bleakness. What it does afford is a group of well-directed and especially well-considered performances.

Mr. Pigg renders Kieran without a great deal of flourish, but he's precisely as he should be. Ms. O'Connell rides a fine line beautifully, alternately upbeat and depressed. One can see that at any given moment Michelle might shatter or, as is the case, melt down. Ms. Vukovic, who also appeared in Peter and Vandy and "I Want You To", is miscast as Marty -- the script contemplates someone considerably older -- but she acquits the role well, as do Mr. Meyer, Ms. Keyser and Mr. Good. Mr. Cornillon is also fine in a much smaller role, although the need for his character is one of my few quibbles with this otherwise rewarding piece.

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Losing Ground
Written and Directed by Bryan Wizemann
with Kendall Pigg, Mark Meyer, Eileen O'Connell, Monique Vukovic, Rhonda Keyser, John Good and Matthieu Cornillon
Running time: 1 hours 15 minutes with no intermission
A production of Choices Theatre Project
Paradise Theater, 64 East 4th Street (Bowery/2 Av)
Telephone: (212) 206-1515
THUR - SAT @8, SUN @ 7; $15
Opening March 29, 2003, closing April 13, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 3/27/03 performance

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