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Wilde said of society, “To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it is simply a tragedy.” The two video clerks of Jessica Goldberg’s interestingly fractured play Stuck might agree. The main difference between this hackneyed pair of misfits and any number of recent representations of frustrated suburban youth— Clerks and SubUrbia come to mind— is that these two are women, dammit. Boredom buddies Lula and Margaritah, trapped in their upstate hometown, amuse themselves by switching underwear and making lists of reasons to go on living. Margaritah can’t escape her trap of single motherhood, carting her infant daughter everywhere, refusing to let the child affect her slacker lifestyle. She’s also ad-
dicted to Oprah’s self-help dogma, and therefore prone to outbursts of artificial optimism and “visualization.” Lula’s agoraphobic, TV-bingeing mother has become dependent on and resentful of her. The two fantasize about starting “clean,” and beginning a hopeful new life somewhere else. Enter dashing Latin lover Jorge, an Argentinian smooth talker who consumes Margaritah in one gulp. Convinced that he is going to save her, she falls victim to his purple intensity. In the meantime, Lula has an affair with a man who might be her father— her mother had a dangerous combination of promiscuity and amnesia. In the play’s oddest twist, Jorge turns out to be an active Peronista. Neither Margaritah nor Lula has any true understanding of what that implies (I guess Evita hasn’t arrived at the video store). Perhaps this is the play’s lesson, that political ignorance and frustration can make the disenfranchised susceptible to autocratic leaders, but that sort of didacticism is hard to take seriously in this context. It’s tough to determine exactly what keeps Stuck stuck: the difficulty of making these slightly stock characters live onstage is nearly surmounted by the cast and director. There’s pathos aplenty in the tragic ending, yet it’s undercut by Margaritah’s postbreakup insanity. Much like the lives it portrays, Stuck nears its goals but never leaves town. — James Hannaham

Toy for Two

Musicals these days seem to fall into column A or column B— Andrew Lloyd Webber wannabes with schmaltzy anthems set to nearly senseless words, or faux Sondheim with clever lyrics and quasi-melodies. Little By Little (Saint Peter’s Church), with Brad Ross’s music and Ellen Greenfield and Hal Hackady’s lyrics, falls clearly into column B— and is a rather charming example of the genre.

Directed with verve and sensitivity by Annette Jolles, Little By Little tells its story entirely with songs. It creates characters a little more than paper-thin and churns up some dramatic tension: You actually care which girl will get the guy. The songs take the blond (Christiane Noll), the brunette (Liz Larsen), and the guy (Darrin Baker) from grade school friendships as bursting vessels of prepubescent hormones through first jobs and relationship and career angst. Both girls love the guy; he picks the spicy brunette, while the plaintive blond plays everybody’s best friend . . . and yearns. But the wheel’s still in spin.

While some songs cloy, most nail their characters and situations neatly. In “Popcorn,” the teen couple keep passing an empty bag at the movies so he can cop some feels. Much later, in “If You Loved Me,” the grown lovers tear at each other in a rending argument. There are amusing sexual entendres and knowing commentary on their yuppie lives.

The cast, Broadway veterans all, is winning. Larsen deftly portrays the sexually hot but emotionally cool brunette, and Baker is appealing as the well-intentioned but laughably dense guy. The biggest treat is Noll, fresh from her virginal role in Jekyll & Hyde. With her sweet, clear voice and her shaded performance as the buffeted best friend, she adds dimension to this slight tale. Dammit, she should get the guy. — Francine Russo

No Stage, Radio

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of staging Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet, the author’s fictionalized memoir of his
early filmmaking days in prewar London. Will Pomerantz’s prosy adaptation, however, amounts to little more than a dreary exercise in story theater. Obviously intended as a tribute to the man Gore Vidal once called the best prose writer in English, the production has the opposite effect of making Isherwood’s literary style seem fussy and inert— exactly the problem the caricatured studio heads have with young Christopher’s first screenplay.

Pomerantz’s handling of the novella may in fact be better suited to radio, where at least the well-phrased observations would remain unmolested by clumsy pantomime. As it is, a letter cannot be read without Christopher first telling us how he “pored over its contents.” If someone is said to have spoken with a “furrowed brow,” that’s a cue for an actor to begin furiously scrunching his forehead. To be fair, the original material isn’t exactly boiling over with drama— the episodic narrative is memorable chiefly for the cigar-chomping character of Friedrich Bergmann, an uncompromising Austrian Jewish film director who deplores the business side of the movie industry as much as Christopher and eventually becomes for him a kind of artistic father figure.

Maybe some stories are better left on the page after all. Kameron Steele turns the 24-year-old would-be screenwriter into an earnest Cambridge grad student— the tweedy self-
consciousness looks right, but the cleverness seems borrowed. With his sweaty, Freud-like appearance, Dylan Green does a fine job of bringing the high-strung Viennese auteur to life. The rest of the ensemble assumes multiple cartoon personas— which, like the rest of the production, can’t compare in color or depth to the impressions gleaned from reading the book on one’s own. — Charles Mcnulty