ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Declan and Noel, twenty-five-year-olds who seem to be fresh out of college, are lodged at a hotel so they can attend their father's marriage to the woman with whom he was having an affair before their mother died, and the funeral of Noel's childhood friend. Declan deals with his anger over his father's infidelity and the unsatisfactory nature of his life and life in general with the above mentioned peroration. Noel, who is enduring additional anguish thanks to the defection of a girlfriend, articulates his frustration by prancing, posing and punching (the air). He is also engaged in some kind of arts and crafts project, which turns out to be a huge hand making an obscene gesture. Noel has decorated the hand with letters his father wrote to his mistress, and he intends on displaying the hand at an opportune moment during the wedding.
Eventually, Noel's former girlfriend, Nicole (Caitlin FitzGerald) comes knocking at the door. It seems she's not perfectly happy with her new beau, a man whose business is wrecking buildings (a similar theme appears in Parlour Song at the Atlantic Theater Company, so perhaps this is a trend). It turns out he just doesn't have Noel's depth of character. Is he sub-human or only sub-normal?
For all his forensic fireworks in the cause of insincerity, Chimonides appears incapable of writing simple dialogue meant to convey sincere emotion. His sentences are awkward or trite and the actors' delivery is stiff. This becomes even more evident in the second act when Chimonides gets down to actually developing his story.
Nor is the play helped by its director. Jace Alexander, who has substantial TV credit (Rescue Me, Burn Notice, Allie McBeal ) directs with an overwrought frenzy that just doesn't work off the screen. At one point Burns stands before a mirror and contorts his body into something that's either psychic pain or a really bad upset stomach. Burns also rolls around the floor with his brother, his girlfriend and all by himself — something of a record for this sort of gymnastics.
The most successful element in The Optimist is the set. Travis McHale's cheap Tallahassee hotel room is exactly what these two boys who refuse to grow up deserve — a bland and soulless setting for their mindless activity. There's also pre-recorded music that smoothes scene transitions. It doesn't serve much dramatic purpose other than to reinforce the age of the principals, but it's generally more entertaining than the dialogue.
There's nothing wrong with writing about callow youths, but there's something troubling about confusing wit with drunken ramblings and tragedy with disappointment in adolescent love. Under these circumstances, even the boys' justified fury at their father's insensitivity is trivialized.
For most of the play, it's hard to figure out who is the optimist. When Nicole finally delivers the explanation, it's too late and too silly to make much of a difference. I think the true optimists may be the people who produced the play.
Having seen and immensely enjoyed Ground UP's last production, The People vs. Mona, I had high hopes for something more engaging and entertaining. Hopefully I will find it next time around.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide