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A CurtainUp Review
Stone Cold Dead Serious
By Les Gutman
Fortunate playwrights develop a group of actors who become identified with their work. In the couple of years since Adam Rapp splashed onto the theater scene, such a cadre seems to be coalescing around his plays, and the good news is they are an exceptionally talented bunch. Guy Boyd, Gretchen Cleevely and Matt Stadelmann were seen in his last New York outing, Trueblinka (reviews of this and Rapp's other plays are linked below), and essentially reprise their roles here: Boyd as the disabled father; Cleevely as the errant daughter; and Stadelmann as the confused son who finds an extracurricular means of escape from his home life. Boyd and Stadelmann are here revisiting the characters they portrayed in the original production of this work, which premiered at ART a year ago. The estimable Betsy Aidem joins the trio as the overworked, religion-obsessed mother.
Here they form the Ledbetters, the quintessence of a dysfunctional family. Clifford (Boyd) is on worker's comp, a semi-zombie skidding along on pain pills and beer, addicted to QVC and pining for dinner at the local Cracker Barrel. Linda (Aidem) works overtime as a waitress, obsesses about saints and vainly tries to retain a sense of family. Shaylee (Cleevely) has bailed out, and now lives on the street as a drug-addicted whore. Younger brother Wynne (Stadelmann) has managed to offset a touching sense of duty to this battered bunch with his own obsession: a Samurai-themed computer game at which he is so good he finds himself as one of three finalists invited to come to New York for a live reënactment/contest the winner of which will get $1 million. Despite the predictable maternal disapproval, he ventures forth from his native Chicago, stopping along the way to pick up one of the other competitors, a mute girl named Sharice (also Cleevely), with whom he has fallen in love online.
Rapp's setup scene is quite good, again revealing his talent as a writer. As his story progresses, however, it moves not just from the real to the unreal, but from the sublime to the ridiculous, and the compelling and not so. After a wholly unnecessary hitchhiking scene in which he earns $100 (which he doesn't need) for giving the driver (Boyd) a blowjob, he lands in a flophouse in New York with Sharice in tow. (Another superfluous scene features a visit from Snake Lady (Aidem), a colorful East Village denizen who occupies the room next door.) Then we witness the competition by means of a television broadcast (unseen but with play-by-play provided by Mr. Rapp's brother, Anthony) into the hospital room of Shaylee. (She tried to kill herself and is now institutionalized, an event that seemingly has congealed the parents enough to pay a visit.) After a brutal and bloody competition (in a Samurai sort of way), there is a faux-poignant finale.
Several things compound to make Stone Cold annoying. Rapp's abilities are manifest, and he has a sure-footed, inventive director, the aforementioned terrific cast and a host of themes his material suggests. In the end, all are squandered. His script is riddled with detours, and in the end he just gets lost. And so do we.
The relatively good news for this production is that there's a lot worthwhile to see. Carolyn Cantor draws superb performances from all of the actors, mines the material for effective (and often darkly comic) nuances and even employs the septet of stage hands (dressed as Ninjas) to great effect. David Korins designs sets which are extensive (surprisingly, there are two and a half set changes during the course of the show) and apt; costumes, lighting and sound design are well beyond expectations as well.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
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