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LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Stanley H. Nemeth
Currently having its world premiere at South Coast Repertory's Second Stage is Joe Hortua's bold, insightful, hilariously comic Making It. Set in an upscale Manhattan restaurant which serves as a microcosm of contemporary America, the play presents its three sets of characters as representatives of the way we live now. The theme is that mixed blessing, the pursuit of individual happiness; its principal characters are shown as amusingly, sometimes painfully, separated from one another by their devotion to this common ideal. More often than fame and big bucks, powerlessness and anomie are what they find. Even with success, happiness somehow eludes them.
First, Hortua introduces two ranting immigrant busboys, Mo and Haji, one of whom loves being in the States for the opportunities open to him, while the other despises it. Conflicts centered on happiness, it's clear, occur not only between classes but within them. Except for their recent arrival in New York, these arguers, like strangers, have next to nothing in common.
Second, we have the 50ish businesswoman owner of the restaurant, the failed actress Dora, and her principal waiter, Jack, an aspiring young actor, whom she manipulates and harasses since, among other reasons, she's jealous, in charge and can.
Finally, and most importantly, we have two moneyed diners, the self-absorbed, aspiring writer Paolo and his fiancée Claire, and their late arriving guest, the extravagant left-liberal social activist and flamingly gay playwright, Leonard, Paolo's neglectful mentor.
Apart from the disputatious busboys, who serve mostly to frame the play's ambivalent opening and close, the characters divide up into the familiar categories of aging baby boomers and whiny GenXers. But Hortua's take here is anything but expected. His boomers in authority, for instance, are,surprisingly, a woman boss and a gay mentor. With exquisite political incorrectness, Hortua skewers both of them. The woman is a needler and sexual harasser, as objectionable as any powerful male of old, whereas the gay playwright, failing to ever get around to reading his envious protege's manuscript, is both a user of others and an employer of the tyranny of neglect. The implication is the bold one that a mere shuffling of the gender or sexual orientation of those in authority will not necessarily create a juster or happier world.
Hortua's are intentionally type or flat characters. As such, they are appropriate to his sort of romantic satire. We know about them no more than we need to. Each is ridiculed to some extent, yet each is also given his or her "story." In this way, Hortua never permits us out of easy superiority to close in on any one of them for the kill. At their rascally worst, they still rate as unlucky rascals. Hortua's is an unusual vision; it appears to flow from his attempt "to render to the visible universe the highest possible justice."
The current production is commendable in every respect. The acting by all the principals is distinguished, with JD Cullum (Paolo) and Nicholas Hormann (Leonard) contributing especially brilliant work. The first-act riff in which Paolo mocks the favorite memories and phrases of baby-boomers is a comic high point, while the play's finest moments are in the second-act, when Paolo and Leonard have at each other with all the verbal ammunition in their arsenals.
The set by Angela Balogh Calin is an attractive mix of bronze metals and chocolate and blond woods. Divided into three areas, it provides home bases for each set of characters, yet allows smooth, easy intermingling of busboys, diners, and staff when the script calls for it .
The costumes (also by Calin) are eye-catching, and in one instance spectacular. Leonard is outfitted in a black suit with a turquoise shirt and shoes, a royal blue scarf and socks, and (to finish him off) an orange tie. In his case the clothes do proclaim the man. The direction by David Emmes is for the most part nicely paced, drawing both the humor and the pathos out of the numerous verbal riffs given to each of the characters.
If the play has a flaw, I would say it''s a certain inertia, growing out of the preponderance of verbal riffs at the expense of forward-moving onstage events. One has only to consider the howls of laughter which bring the play wonderfully alive the moment Paolo offhandedly reveals what has brought him and Claire to the restaurant in the first place -- or the laughter, again at the intrusion of the cake bearing owner and waiter into the isolated area of the diners. These sudden lurchings into an action that is happening as we see it marks the movement away from verbose standup comedy into drama. But the flaw, if it is one, is small when taken in conjunction with the many merits in this first full production for the author. Hortua has been commissioned to write a new work for South Coast Repertory; this reviewer looks forward to it with eagerness.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp' s editor.
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