An SP40 Wagner
“Fuck love!” With this, strip-club regular Alan forswears love for power in writer-director Yuri Skujins’s Boca (the Theatorium), his loose, canny adaptation of Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
Those old myths had it right about vanity, greed, and lust. Replace the gods with slick Gulf Coast gangsters, the magic gold with a trove of credit card slips for use by an identity-theft “ring,” and the other roles with suntanned lowlifes, and the parody rolls credibly along. Pastel-suited Martin has promised a pair of Rastafarian contractors his wife’s sister Heather (and control of her cosmetics concern) in return for building Martin’s waterfront McMansion. When the contractors come to collect, Martin and his sleazy lawyer Larry offer them Alan’s credit-slip bounty instead, then plot to steal it for themselves.
Skujins’s script weaves witty pop-culture allusions and haute-gangster gab with snatches of Wagner’s poetry. Skujins has nailed these connivers’ nouveau-tacky taste and milieu. The rhythmic, individuated lingo he’s created makes for droll verbal battles and feints, and the details are right on, from Martin’s “glazed ceilings” and “cherry-wood cabinets” to Heather’s “herbal cleanser, fruit astringent, scruffing powder.”
The ensemble pull off this material with verve: Matthew Maher and Bill Coelius as scarily wired Martin and his oily lawyer; Greig Sargeant and Tonya Canada as the contractors, one grinning and arrogant, the other sour and vicious; Darius Stone and Tony Jackson as the crude, lewd Alan and his abject brother Manuel. In addition to turning (with Tonya Canada) the three Rhine maidens into giggly cock-teasers, Anushka Alissa Carter amuses as Martin’s pouty wife and Nella Vinci makes a Waspish princess of Heather. The piece has draggy moments and not all the jokes work. But with Skujins’s sharp timing, this romp in the swamp achieves some operatic laughs. —Francine Russo
Lawyers, Buns, and Money
A story about a New York lawyer who wrangles with a moral dilemma might strain the credulity of anyone who’s lived here for more than a week. But that’s only one of the leaps of faith required by Love in the Age of Narcissism (the Directors Company), Brad Desch’s mildly naughty, uninsightful quasi-satire of sex and love as seen through the eyes of a wealthy tax attorney named Jon. It’s tough to make a character with so achingly dull a résumé compelling. But Desch and director Chris Smith nearly pull it off by respectively giving Jon a dollop of sardonic wit and hiring the affable David Alan Basche of NBC’s Three Sisters to portray him. This adds up to a play that begs to be described in TV terms, as a “warmedy” maybe—not funny enough for comedy, not weighty enough for drama. Designer Dan Kuchar’s Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired set has the greatest depth of anything in this production.
By the time we meet Jon, an ambitious, de-ethnicized Jewish everyman, he’s become a partner in a slick law firm and cemented over his working-class roots. Clearly he’s already made many a bargain with Mephistopheles. So it’s difficult to be surprised that the married barrister gets re-seduced when Palmer, the mega-moneyed shiksa who stood him up at the altar eight years ago, decides to toy with him again. After the first go-round, she pawned the ring to buy photography equipment and lit off for the Third World. As Palmer, the vampy Amy Landecker wrings every drop of manipulative soap-opera bitch out of this capitalist turned cynical Margaret Bourke-White.
While the rekindled affair heats up, Jon and wife Tess have a difficult time conceiving a child and Jon’s sleazy associate Davis encourages him to womanize. Unbeknownst to Jon, Tess has cheated too, with Danielle. Hilarity does not ensue. At the height of his anguish, Jon wonders, “When will I be truly happy?” Hamlet he ain’t. By his own admission, he’s too shallow for tragedy and too lacking in self-knowledge to define happiness for himself. Similarly, as the play glosses its themes on the way to a predictable flare-up, it leaves bland Jon essentially unchanged and his world only slightly more confused than before. You might call that a tragedy in itself, if it hadn’t taken so long to go nowhere. —James Hannaham
Andrei Serban’s Norse Code
Peer Gynt has famously repelled directors’ attempts to wrestle it onto the stage, one can hardly blame each new generation for trying. Ibsen’s magnificent, yet nearly impossible epic remains so pertinent an indictment of modern man’s passion for heedless self-fulfillment, it demands production. Andrei Serban, certainly, possesses a clear notion of his duty to the play. The program to his rendition at the Theatre of the Riverside Church quotes Harold Clurman saying that the drama “is perhaps something for Peter Brook to essay . . . or Andrei Serban.” Canny Clurman, however, would probably have added, “Use real actors.” Ever quixotic, Serban has chosen to mount his Peer Gynt using MFA students from Columbia, where he sits on the faculty. (It’s a bitter irony that, since America’s monied companies decline to assault the mountain that is Peer, only troupes too small or green now undertake the climb.)
No shock: The cast is game, but not up to the task. Still, Serban lashes the company along, and for much of the first act the play gets through on pure drive. The bacchanalian Troll sequence comes off particularly well. Also keeping this Norwegian top spinning are a parade of nine different Peers. The multiple casting was probably Serban’s way of divvying up the acting spoils, but it also works as a concept, Peer being a hedonistic everyman. Things tumble downhill after intermission, though, as the hero’s physical and psychological journeys get the best of all concerned. The second-act Peers are sub-par. (The best by far, Michael B. Downing, faced the Troll King.) Rather desperately, Serban responds to many of Ibsen’s kaleidoscopic scene shifts by depositing vaguely symbolic debris onstage: onions, leaves, garbage, coal. By the end, it looks as though he’s been throwing things at the play, which, artistically, is just what he’s done. —Robert Simonson