Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two recent reviews for Backstage

October 11, 2007
By Christopher Murray
This past summer, enterprising Stagefarm commissioned 10-minute plays on the theme of vengeance from five talented playwrights as a response to "the heightened climate of retribution in this country and the world today," according to a program note from Artistic Director Alex Kilgore, who also directed the first and last entries, with Ari Edelson taking on the other three.
The quickly written results, which might have benefited from a little additional time to ripen, are nevertheless provocative and impassioned and highly energized by a talented cast of five young actors.
Gina Gionfriddo's Squalor starts the evening with a duo whose job it is to lure supposed pedophiles from chat rooms into law enforcement snares. Marnie (Carrie Shaltz) is all venom and certainty in carrying out her mission, her back arched like a cobra's as she commands her underling, Pete (David Wilson Barnes), to read out the chat room conversations: "You be the perv; I'll be the prey." Pete expresses empathy toward a lonely man (the creepily endearing David Ross) primed for entrapment and in doing so reveals his own isolation and the difficulty inherent in maintaining moral superiority without giving way to viciousness.
In Julian Sheppard's Skin & Bones, Jesse (Lisa Joyce), intent on revenging the murder of her parents, has joined some sort of paramilitary vigilantes, but a crisis of faith in the brutal mechanisms of vengeance leads her to a betrayal of her green-gloved and blood-splattered partner, Alex (Michael Mosley), even as he hacks up the offal of her latest dismembered victims.
Giftbox by Francine Volpe concerns two sisters whose lives have taken markedly different directions, with slacker chick C (Shaltz) coming in crisis to ask for support and money from her as yet unwed and pregnant sister A (Joyce), who has renegotiated many of her goals and dreams.
Ron Fitzgerald's Rats has Ray (Ross) being held hostage by a bathrobe-wearing, pistol-toting dropout of an ad copywriter, Tom (Mosley), who wants him to explain the solicitation letter he wrote for a "Save the Children" campaign.
The last piece, Neena Beber's Specter, imagines the final conversation between weirdo music producer Phil Spector (an inspired Barnes, all stooped and twitchy) and his doomed paramour, Lana Clarkson (Joyce).
Each of the plays exhibits the use of exciting and quirky language to pose engrossing questions about the corrosive cost to the soul of retaliatory rage. Each of the actors shows great facility and charisma in alternating between flat, throwaway affect and high-octane buffo caricature. Barnes and Joyce stand out, however, for the range and depth of their characterizations.
Presented by Stagefarm at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., NYC.Oct. 6-20. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.(212) 868-4444 or by Calleri Casting.
The Revenge of the Space Pandas or Binky Rudich and the Two-Speed Clock
October 08, 2007
By Christopher Murray
David Mamet's charming children's theatre piece is making a reappearance as part of the Atlantic Theater Company's Atlantic for Kids program. The show concerns three friends: 12-year-old budding scientist Binky Rudich (Chris Wendelken), his enthusiastic pal Vivian Mooster (Nicole Pacent), and their slightly stuffy 1920s-golf-outfit-wearing friend Bob the Sheep (Michael Piazza).
A boring lunchtime avoiding Mom's calls to casserole is transformed when Binky's project, a two-speed clock, hurls them 50 light years away from Weekhawken, Ill. The friends must figure out how to get back home while at the same time avoiding the space panda security force of King George Topax (Dave Toomey), who has the ditzy ruler thing down pat. His Royal Retainer (Hannah Miller) calls him "your righteous indignation" and attempts to capture Bob the Sheep so the king can get wool for the letter sweater he wants more than anything else in the world. Sounds stupid? It is. The plot is the loosest of pretexts for puns, high jinks, and reinforcement of the message that friendship and loyalty are as valuable as excitement and adventure.
Among the student actors, Wendelken and Piazza have developed the most comedic confidence to throw lines away and so don't wind up laboring their bits as much as everyone else. But the esprit de corps among the actors is palpable, and because they are having such a good time with Mamet's wonderfully kooky lines — such as "When I grow up, all I want to be is flexible" — so does the audience, kids both little and big.
Presented by Atlantic for Kids
at the Atlantic Theater Company,
336 W. 20th St., NYC.Sept. 29-Oct. 14. Sat. and Sun., 10:30 a.m.
(646) 216-1190 or

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