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A CurtainUp Review

Right As Ron

Satire is what closes on Saturday night
---George F. Kaufman
If Bialystock and Bloom had picked Right As Ron out of their slush pile of submissions rather than Springtime For Hitler, their scheme for producing a profitable flop might well have succeeded. That's not to say that Judd Bloch doesn't score points for inventive news scavengering with his idea of using the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping as a springboard for what the play's advance press releases described as "an edgy satire of the (im)perfect American family."

The question of whether Bloch's idea would come off as an exercise in bad taste or indeed have the required edge to make it work, intrigued me enough to sign up for one of the press nights. After all, the media hype attending tragedies like the teenaged Smart girl's lengthy captivity are regularly exploited via high profile interviews and made for television movies that demonstrate television's power to seduce people into trading their privacy for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Unlike the cat of the proverbial saying, curiosity didn't kill this critic but it did sentence me to two hours of watching a play that, after about ten intriguing minutes, goes depressingly downhill. As for its being edgy -- it has the edge of a boiled potato.

By the time the intermission rolled around, it was fairly clear that this was more extended skit than satire. But curiosity once again got the best of me and instead of following several of my fellow critics who headed for the exit, I stayed the course. My stick-to-itiveness was not rewarded. Act two revealed even less that was right about Right As Ron as act one; on the contrary, it spiraled into the realm of the ridiculous. In fairness to the show, while neither I or the exiting critics were amused or impressed, the two hours were punctuated with a number of loud laughs from several other people in the audience.

So how exactly has the playwright developed his torn from the headlines plot? It begins with teenager April Starr (Bloch takes no chances on viewers' mistaking his inspirational source) suddenly reappearing in her parents home after a year with a kidnapper, the title character. Kidnapper Ron, whom we don't meet until much later, has brainwashed the girl into thinking of him as her savior and lover. April, who now calls herself May, intends to stay just long enough to grab some belongings and rejoin Ron. Instead she finds herself back in the embrace of her large family which results in a complete deterioration of her mental state.

The Starr clan includes an older brother whose looks and personality are as different from the blonde, blue-eyed morality spouting majority as that of the youngest, an adopted 11-year-old Vietnamese orphan who is constantly victimized by a monstrous pair of 12-year-old Starr twins. Another brother is a righteous, stiff upper lip West Point man, though it doesn't take long to know he's as gay as his blatantly gay friend from the high school baseball team. The parents of this normalcy challenged family initially appear via a large TV screen that shows them fast asleep in their upstairs bedroom -- an obvious metaphor to their being asleep to the true selves beneath their own and their children's God-fearing, American as apple pie exterior. That TV set is also employed for some of the better scenes in which news of April's return leads to the family's being interviewed by the likes of Larry King and Ted Koppel.

Right As Ron trots fifteen actors on stage. Erica Rhodes is as pretty an April as you could wish for, but neither she or any other member of this large and occasionally able cast rise above the cartoonishness of their characters. Director Max Williams, while moving the many short scenes forward at a brisk pace, does little to curb some of the acting excesses -- like Donnie Tuel's overdone interpretation of a "swishy " gay man and Ben Lizza's imitation of Danny DeVito's siding saleman in a thankfully brief appearance as a filmmaker who wants to tailor the Starrs' story into a family friendly, truth-be-damned film.

Given that this is a small scale production by two fledgling producing companies (the playwright being co-founder of one), it would be easy to overlook the fact that Evan Gabriele's cluttered set looks more like a trailer park home than the million dollar suburban house the script calls for. If the play were less ham-fisted and obvious in its satiric aim, that set could easily be spiffed up for future productions. As it stands, the Smarts who, according to some newspaper reports are upset about this play, have little cause to worry that Right As Ron will make enough of a splash to bring them further notoriety.

Written by Judd Bloch
Directed by Max Williams
Cast (in order of appearance): Erica Rhodes, Tony Larkin, Thomas Guiry, Susan-Kate Heaney, Yvonne Lin, Jas Robertson, Mark Auerbach, Mike Mosley, Donnie Tuel, Kathryn Ekblad, Carolyn Ladd, John Dohnmann, Naomi Warner, Ben Lizza, John McAdams.
Set Design: Evan Gabriele
Costume Design: Jenna Rossi-Camus
Lighting Design: Ian Grunes
Sound Design: Jeremy Frindel
Running time: 2 hours, including one 10-minute intermission br>Bank Street Theater, 155 Bank Street (Washington/West Streets, West Village) SmartTix 212-868-44
1/29/04 through 2/15/04; opening 2/02/04.
Thursday through Sat @ 8pm, Sundays at 3pm and 7pm.
Tickets $15.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 30th press performance

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