Reel Around the Fountain Pen

Named for a Smiths lyric and opening to the strains of a Belle and Sebastian live-twee-or-die anthem (“Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” actually), Shyness Is Nice (Westbeth Theatre) attempts an affectionate skewering of indie-fanboy paralysis—it’s even thoughtful enough to get its central pair of fey, depressive manchildren laid. In fact, the play has also been adapted as a porn film with the straightforward working title Platypussy, though Marc Spitz’s stage version bashfully conceals all bumping of uglies behind a bed-and-dresser set (festooned with a vintage poster of “Physical”-era Olivia Newton-John). Stew (Zeke Farrow) and Rodney (Andersen Gabrych) are 30-year-old virgins—all hunched shoulders, trapped-rabbit glances, and cardigan sweaters—prone to pondering whether “fucking is better than the Joy Division box set.” (Spin contributing writer Spitz also wrote the Ian Curtis paean I Wanna Be Adored.) Their junk-addled friend Fitzgerald (director Jonathan Lisecki) contrives to relieve them of their chastity with a visit from Kylie (Camille Shandor), a motherly prostitute with a vagrant Australian accent. She’s represented by irascible pimp Blixa (Sibyl Kempson), who’s driven to murderous rage when she catches on that double-dealer Fitzgerald has given her “baby formula in exchange for my finest bitch.”

With bodies waylaid by lust or bullets piling up in Stew’s room (or is it Rodney’s? Do they share a bed as well as a record collection? Why has Fitzgerald brought them a girl?), Shyness Is Nice ends up as High Fidelity with a casualty list. A few of the physical bits stick (notably Rodney’s squeamish attempts to familiarize himself with Kylie’s nether regions), but Shyness Is Nice struggles to maintain its histrionic pitch over 70 minutes, and its escalating, arbitrary chaos is more slipshod than genuinely deranged. It’s almost beside the point who’s left standing at the finale—heaven knows they’re miserable still. —Jessica Winter

A Day That Will Live in Infancy

They fuck you up, your mum and dad—or so it would seem from New Georges’ The Right Way to Sue (Here), a screwball drama that begins as a satire of modern parenthood. Upper West Siders Maggie and Tom exchange snappy repartee about cell phones, Citarella, and computer start-ups. The kind of couple to whom a baby is a lifestyle accessory, they hardly bat an eye when Maggie keeps losing their infant, leaving it in stores or in the fax basket at work. But when it’s found (in the cheese vault at Zabar’s) by a disgruntled teen named Sue, who spirits it back to Atlantic City, the couple are jolted out of their privileged Manhattan world into reality—or surreality, as they follow Sue into a curious land peopled with colorful blue-collar kooks, a/k/a New Jersey.

After the opening scenes, Ellen Melaver’s script descends into forced sitcom wackiness. Maggie and Tom meet a ditzy, hairspray-huffing hairdresser who’s conveniently willing to chauffeur them from one false lead to the next. The journey brings their underlying marital tensions predictably to the fore: Tom feels excluded by the baby (a “rodent” who’s taken over his life), while Maggie realizes she never wanted it in the first place. Sue’s problems, on the other hand, stem from her traumatic childhood—cue violins. All are reunited in time for the contrived, not-so-happy ending.

Director Anne Kauffman guides the madcappery across an attractive, cleverly mutable set by Susan Zeeman Rogers, but she’s less adept with her cast (especially Stephanie Brooke, who plays Sue with an unremitting scowl and mangled “Jersey” accent). Brittle yet sympathetic, Jennifer Morris fares best as the convincingly bewildered Maggie. According to the list on her Palm Pilot, having a baby is “just something you’re supposed to do”—after getting an M.B.A. and before making an IPO. As for wanting a baby? Not on the schedule. —J. Yeh

Coffee, Tea, or Bilk?

The not-so-subtle title Slaves of Starbucks gives a good hint to the tone of Peter Aterman’s monologues on the corruption of Western society (Here). Though subtitled A Requiem for the 20th Century, there’s more anger than sorrow on display, the dozen vignettes serving as 12 counts in an indictment against modernity.

America, no surprise, bears the brunt of writer-performer Aterman’s satire, the nation painted—accurately—as international consumerist Moloch. (The Dutch, the Germans, and Aterman’s fellow Canadians also get a few pokes.) The monologue setups run the gamut, from a Tourette’s-like parody of JFK’s “Ask Not” speech, to a mockery of American tourists eating their way through Italy, to a satire of a Wall Street firm that uses an Aztec priest to predict business trends. Some of Aterman’s gags fall flat—his tour of CIA headquarters lands lamest—but others can be quite inspired, such as his slide show demonstrating how the Archie comic-book series is actually coded Nazi propaganda. The best monologue, titled “I Could Still Hear the Muzak Playing,” is a marvelously deadpan story about a man being castrated by a gang in a shopping mall, followed by his unsuccessful effort to get medical assistance from the indifferent employees at Orange Julius and the Bombay Company.

Many of the pieces could be shortened, and their critiques made less obvious. Whatever the unevenness of his writing, though, Aterman is a fine performer. A versatile actor, he has a nicely controlled intensity, an asset that’s especially appealing when mixed with the show’s quieter moments of absurdity—his portrayal of a stoned, davening KLM jet is pleasingly ridiculous. Christopher Caines directs Slaves of Starbucks gracefully, but next time around should encourage Aterman to freshen his satiric blend. —Brian Parks

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