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A CurtainUp Review

By Jenny Sandman

Play resembles nothing so much as an elaborate classroom playwriting exercise. The series of short scenes was conceived and directed by Robert O'Hara (Booty Candy, American Ma(u)l, Which Wolf is Which). It begins with a brief scene called "Drinks and Desire" from Booty Candy which is then passed it off to each of five other playwrights in succession, utilizing the following rules:

1. You must use at least one character from the last scene.
2. You can only add one new character if you choose to add any at all.
3. In 10 pages, move the story forward in an adventurous manner.

Each writer saw only the section added before his or hers. O'Hara caps this off with his own last scene. The final product is certainly adventurous, but it's kind of like a game of "Telephone." You start off with one story, then each person whispers his or her version of the story to the next, leading to a completely different.

u Structurally Play is all over the place and lacking in stylistic cohesion. The writers involved are a talented group of young, hot playwrights, but (naturally) each has a different voice and a different rhythm. This turns out to be part of the play's appeal, as well as its ultimate downfall. What O'Hara refers to "a s ort of Variations on a Theme: The Consequences of Living in a Metrosexual Reality" ends up being a story involving characters who are less metrosexual than heteroflexible --an example: One of the character, Roy, is a married Chinese man having an affair with his gay brother-in-law, Sutter. He's also addicted to casual gay encounters arranged online. When an old friend of theirs from high school, Tamara, reappears and becomes Sutter's sexual plaything, this otherwise tight playlet begins to spiral out of control and in the second part, when Roy's wife (and Sutter's sister) finds out about her double betrayal, the story line essentially unravels. The last two playlets run the gamut from elaborate and bizarre dream sequence to surrealistic farce.

Like all playwriting experiments, Play's failures help to shore up the successes. The characters, especially Tamara, are witty and shrewd. The juxtaposition of writing styles clarifies each particular playwright's strengths. As director, O'Hara wisely keeps scene transitions fluid in order to downplay the sometimes abrupt changes in style.

The cast is strong, though some more so than others. Melvina Jones is a treasure as Tamara -- charismatic and brash, she overcomes her character's de facto role as comic relief. She brings more presence to the stage than her male counterparts, Chad Beckim (Sutter) and Glenn Cruz (Roy). While both are capable actors, they lack the je ne sais quoi that would allow them to be proper counterparts to the female leads (Jones and Molly Pearson as Sammi, Roy's wife). Consequently, the main story line -- their love affair -- suffers.

Play is true to its name-- a playful experiment between peers. To be a real play in the traditional sense of the word, it would need smoother style transitions and a stronger plot. But these writers are some of the best young playwrights around and t O'Hara has proven his willingness to push the envelope. Ultimately, his Booty Candy (my review) was more successful, but this experiment is not without its charms. And the price -- $10 a ticket-- is right!

Written by Robert O'Hara, Chay Yew, Kia Corthron, Edwin Sanchez, Keith Josef Adkins, and Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed by Robert O'Hara
Directed by Robert O'Hara
With Chad Beckim, Glenn Cruz, Lionel Gentle, Melvina Jones, Molly Pearson and Ivy Risser
Lighting Design by Jason Jeunnette
Set and Costume Design by Lex Liang
Sound Design by Daniel Oldham
Running time: One hour and thirty minutes with no intermission
Partial Comfort Productions, Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street; 212-714-4738
6/02/04 to 6/26/04
Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm. All tickets $10
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on June 9th performance
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