Week in the Knees

Seven Days, Seven Plays

A barefoot man in an ill-sewn tuxedo wrings his hands in despair. "Who's going to see this?" he cries. "Nobody! Who's going to enjoy this? Nobody. Because my work stinks." A few glassy-eyed audience members nod along. These lines from 10 provided an inauspicious introduction to a wall-to-wall week of theatergoing—seven Off-Off Broadway plays in as many days.

10, an entry in Here's expansive Culturemart series, concerns a manic man named Andrew who aspires to create new life. But not through mere procreation. Abandoned at the altar, Andrew reproduces all on his own, with the aid of a series of boxes marked "limbs," "organs various," etc. Daniel, the shambling foam-rubber golem who results, suffers from faulty knees, a mangled hand, and the overwrought ego of his progenitor. Kevin Augustine—who not only plays Andrew but also writes, directs, and builds the puppets—would chew scenery if the production budget allowed him any. He contents himself with screams, cries, and a supremely onanistic drunk scene.

Drunkenness on the part of lyricist, composer, and book writer might explain the remarkably ill-conceived Fiddler Sub-Terrain, a parody of Fiddler on the Roof (La MaMa). This Fiddlermodernizes the old one, supplies entirely new music, relocates it to Quebec, and stirs in a number of subplots—deviating too far from the original for coherent satire, but not far enough to stand on its own. Anthony Patellis, also the codirector, stars as Teddy, the patriarch of a Jewish, English-speaking household. He rules ineffectually over his sweat-suit-clad wife and trio of Jewish Canadian princess daughters. Teddy describes himself as less of a fiddler on the roof than an accordionist in the basement—and perhaps he should have stayed there. His Joe Pesci-esque facial contortions and overblown style ought to have been hemmed in by a director. (Oops, he is the director.) Other members of the cast overact quite as egregiously, though Sean Power achieves near transcendence as he sings a French-accented rock hymn to Winnipeg.

The next night's offering, Spooky Dog and the Teen-Age Gang Mysteries (Kraine Theatre), offered an equally transcendent musical moment, a rendition of Captain & Tenille's "Love Will Keep Us Together." Unlike Fiddler, this send-up of Scooby Dooand other '70s Saturday-morning cartoons, while slight, succeeds utterly. The show ostensibly concerns the mysterious disappearance of celebrities at the Creepola County Fair, but really provides an opportunity for the cast to show off note-perfect costumes, mastery of Hanna-Barbera facial expressions, and the ability to utter "Zoiks!" with nary a giggle. Though the sex-and-drug jokes are rather tired, the enthusiasm of the young troupe proves infectious. Those meddling kids get away with it.

Beaver Jersey, another meddling kid, gets away with plenty in Claudia Dey's new play. Though Beaver(Red Room) takes place in snowbound small-town Canada, the mishmash of accents lends it a far more cosmopolitan air. Beavertreads the familiar frozen ground of the coming-of-age narrative, following a difficult young woman from the suicide of her mother to her wedding day. Kristen Cerelli proves convincing in the title role, but many other elements of the production lack the realism she lends to her part. Dey, a young playwright, can turn a neat phrase, but she falters with structure and character.

No one can fault miniaturist Theodora Skipitares for her structures. Optic Fever, her meditation on the rise of perspectival painting in the Renaissance (La MaMa), teems with remarkable constructions: animate trompe l'oeil ceilings, enormous babies, and finely detailed puppets. But her figures and David First's lovely music don't excuse the inadequacy of her text. Skipitares's language switches between droning passages of cultural history and hammy dramatic reenactments, lending the piece the aura of an educational film. Though admittedly most educational films do not include puppet cunnilingus.

Cary and Gallo: What If We Did This?(Soho Playhouse) certainly does not include puppet cunnilingus, as the young comedians have stated in an interview that they "never curse or resort to shock humor." Maybe they should. Their marginally entertaining evening of skits and videos suggests Seinfeld if airline peanuts and vaginal sponges never existed. If Seinfeldproposed comedy about nothing, Josh Cary (the Jewish one) and Patrick Gallo (the husky one) perform comedy about less than nothing: how men greet each other, how they talk on the phone, how some wear sweaters tied around their waists.

The characters of Honey & Boyd(the Theatorium) have weightier concerns than sweater tying or even sponges. This semi-musical concerns a pair of innocents trapped on a freezing road, where they contend with the devil—or at least toxic waste. The odd script by Patti Chambers, who also stars as Honey, somehow confuses an evangelical narrative, a South Jersey mise-en-scène, and an escaped criminal plot. Chambers charms as the breast-implanted heroine, but the text degenerates into a magical-realism mess. The icy interior of the theater, though, did lend the scene a surprising verisimilitude. Thank goodness they let you bring drinks inside.

Interestingly, the Kraine, the Red Room, and the Soho Playhouse also allow in-house drinking. And, unlike tendencies toward metatheatrical narratives, indistinct characters, and performers both writing and directing, that's a trend a critic can really throw her weight behind. Cheers.

 
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