No More Clown Sex Bars
“Cheryl, darling? . . . It’s Albert here. . . . Oh baby doll, you missed a great show last night, Please Everything Burst (P.S.122). I mean isn’t it just a fantastic name? Like please everything just burst. . . . Mike Albo. Mike, you know—slender bod, goatee, actor type, and. . . yes, he did Spray last year. . . . Well, he did a fantastic job last night. I mean there were a few little mishaps, a few little slips of the tongue here and there, but ‘cuz the script was sooo real, I just felt like he was a friend of mine, you know. . . . There were 13 monologues and it was all about just the ridiculousness of modern life and all the silly little stresses we all get caught up in. . . . Well, the first act is him playing a gay guy. . . . Yeah, I guess it kinda adds to the irony of it all, like the life he’s taking the piss out of could well be his own life. . . . Yeah, so anyway at the beginning he’s like, ‘I’m so into honesty now, no more coke, no more clown sex bars. . . . I’m shaving down my life,’ and then he goes into this big rant about how he spent 10 hours in a gay steam bath and then snorted something called sliver and was like, ‘I am determined to have fun,’ and then in another act he’s accepting an Oscar and he thanks the whole world including like Microsoft Word and Q-Tip. . . . It was sooo funny, Larry and me were in tears but there were serious moments, like—well I better keep something secret, darling, but the end, well, you just have to go girl, it gets raunchy you know and beautiful, like it just brings everything together. . . . OK. . . . Yeah. . . . So we went to Raw Hide afterward. . . . It was OK but it just wasn’t the same after the show, like everything did just burst for me, you know? Clever little duck Albo is.” —Emma Pearse
Bad Hair Day
Benny’s Barbershop (Theater for the New City) desperately wants cutting. And not just a little off the top, please. In fact, this would-be madcap musical—which clocks in at nearly three hours—could use a whole new do.
Benny, a former minor-league pitcher, runs a barbershop and bookmaking establishment deep in the heart of Brooklyn. Though the setup is 1940s, the furnishings ’70s, and the costumes ’80s, the use of a cell phone finally clarifies that he’s operating in the present day. When the good-hearted Benny stops a young tough from slapping around his shampoo girl, he runs afoul of the mob. FBI stings, kidnappings, briefcase switches, and sing-alongs ensue.
Benny’s wants to be a sort of Guys and Dolls about an average joe rather than a charismatic hood. As the eponymous lead, Mark Marcante (who shares writing and directing credits) certainly has the paunchy face and figure for easy comedy. And the script features a few moments of Runyonesque comedy—like a cop referred to as “the fuzzy one” and a horse dubbed “Glue Factory.” But neither the leading man’s looks nor the choice line can save this faulty script and lackluster production.
Writers Marcante and T. Scott Lilly have crafted an adequate plot, but they divert from it—ceaselessly and needlessly—to show a bingo game, a church service, some mobsters playing Monopoly. And the acting veers from hammy to unwatchable. Much the same may be said of the singing. (Confidential to directors: If you continue to use Crystal Field, please remove all high notes from her songs. Please.)
In fact, Benny’s‘s creators would do best to break out the electric clippers, shave the whole thing off, and wait for something more healthy and manageable to grow in its place. —Alexis Soloski
Quake Hits Elsinore
Poor Hamlet, as if he hadn’t endured enough this season at the hands of Andrei Serban, who turned the Danish court into a grotesque circus. Now Ellen Beckerman seems to have decided that what’s rotten in Denmark must be in the water. How else to explain her population of unfortunate spasmodics, subject to seizurelike jerkings? These “dance” episodes are the stylistic signature of this Hamlet (Here), which retains the famous scenes and soliloquies while making wholesale slashes.
Beckerman, directing a sparse cast of eight, wedges into an overstressed hour and 40 minutes just about every “clever” concept she can. Saving on an actor, she has the Ghost bellow through Horatio (Josh Conklin), Exorcist style. Mad Ophelia (Margot Ebling) twirls mechanically like a music-box doll—an effective conceit—but she also answers a cell phone that rings in her bodice. What vision do these gimmicks serve? The director has ripped out much of Shakespeare’s sage comedy—the players, the gravedigger—substituting cheap, unrelated laughs that undercut the play’s tragic sweep.
Still, the production occasionally flickers into life: The farewell scene between Laertes (Taylor Bowyer) and Ophelia glows with affectionate energy, and Hamlet (James M. Saidy) departs from his robotic, bug-eyed stance to grieve over his dead love. He performs an arresting, ugly ballet while murdering Rosencrantz (C. Andrew Bauer). Oddly, only this haunted courtier is truly affecting. Perhaps he’s tormented by the unexplained disappearance of Guildenstern.
Many among the barefoot cast sport quilted jackets that look like recycled bathrobes, and the set is a bare floor on which, at intervals, Horatio solemnly dumps a box of earth. The production creates no credible illusion—all we get is a bunch of actors doing weird stuff on a dirt-strewn stage. —Francine Russo