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A CurtainUp Review

Pugilist's Specialist

I like standard, well-organized, government sanctioned murders. I'm not a goddam cold-war spy--- Lt. Stein
Marines don't murder. They shape the enemy ---Lt. Freud
I missed the Riot Group's Pugilist Specialist during it's uptown run at 59E. 59 Street but thanks to its extra month at the Bleeker Street Theaters' basement space, I did finally catch up with it last Sunday night. Ben Clover's succinct and trenchant review of this terse, psycho-political thriller tells it all, so I'll just add a few observations.

Playwright Adriano Shaplin, who also plays the slily named Lt. Freud, and his three on-stage colleagues give their parts with just the right degree of clipped almost monotone scariness. The dialogue is razor sharp but I found that the piece palled a bit during the last twenty minutes. The constant moving around of the two benches which comprise the set gets a bit tiresome.

While I won't argue with either Pugilist's cleverness and timeliness, I think the Scottish journalist quoted on the back cover of the book published by Oberon Modern Plays ( is as over-optimistic as the reports issued by the people running the war in Iraq: "Pugilist Specialist reveals an ensemble and a playwright who are destined to leave a lasting imprint on 21st century theatre. Writer Adriano Shaplin is set to join Arthur Miller and David Mamet in the pantheon of great modern American dramatists." Ben's positive but somewhat less hyperbolic opinion which follows is more on the mark.

" This is an excellent hour in a theatre. Most years the fringe is visited by examples of the American School of Spectacularly Verbose Plays. Often overwrought, always over-wordy these make you crave some of the sparseness of Beckett or Pinter. Fringe First winners The Riot Group have made something extraordinary by doing words well. There are lines and passages here with a wit and precision that remind you of Bill Hicks or M.A.S.H. Concerning four soldiers on a mission of covert political assassination (yes, controversial) we see them compromised by internal conflicts (again, controversial) and by one of them being a woman (still more controversial). The day I saw it, the audience was overwhelmed by the pace and smartness of the piece and only started to catch up a third of the way through. Can US servicemen, or any servicemen anywhere, possibly be this quick and funny? So very, very eloquent? It doesn't matter because in Pugilist Specialist they are and the effect is electric. You don't need me to tell you what happens, part of the point is that we never know the truth of what the army tells us or even of what we tell ourselves. Let it suffice to say, go and see it: you might be shocked but you'll definitely be impressed."

Written by Adriano Shaplin
Directed and designed by The Riot Group
Cast: Stephanie Viola (Lt. Emma Stein), Drew Friedman (Lt. Studdard), Adriano Shaplin (Lt. Travis Freud), Paul Schnabel (Col. Johns)
Sound Design: Adriano Shaplin
Running time: 60 minutes, without intermission
The Riot Group at 45 Below at 45 Bleecker St Theaters, 212.352.3101
Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm; Sunday performances at 3pm and 7pm; and late Friday performances at 10.30pm. Tickets $35/ student and seniors are $15. Reviewed at Edinburgh by Ben Clover and at Bleeker Street by Elyse Sommer
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