Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Recent Backstage Reviews

Cat's Cradle

February 25, 2008
By Christopher Murray

Untitled Theater Company #61's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's 1963 novel Cat's Cradle is subtitled "a calypso musical," but that's not quite accurate. This ingenious production, adapted and directed by Edward Einhorn, is more accurately described as a play with music (by Henry Akona) performed by an enthusiastic 22-member company. It also makes diverting use of a small camera focused on an intricate series of models (designed by Tanya Khordoc and Barry Weil), with the resulting images projected onto a beige curtain along the upstage wall to indicate various settings.

The complexity of the production is matched by the convoluted plot. Vonnegut's deadly serious satire concerns a writer (Timothy McCown Reynolds) playing detective to unravel the mystery of a famous scientist's strange and dangerous discovery, ice-nine, a compound that causes water to freeze at room temperature and may be able to wreak havoc globally.

The trail the writer follows leads him to the dead scientist's grown children and the tiny imaginary Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, where he becomes embroiled in machinations of state, religion, and the heart. The potentially dangerous amalgam of unfettered ambition, ingenuity, and creativity is shown to have disastrous consequences for both families and communities.

The creators' ambitions are characteristic of Untitled Theater Company #61's mission to produce "a Theatre of Ideas, political, scientific, and philosophical." While the different elements sometimes compete with each other in a confusing mélange, the overall effect is bracing and makes for intriguing theatre. The adaptation remains incompletely dramatized, but the actors' commitment to the storytelling keeps things focused and energized.

The company makes full use of its somewhat limited musical ability, and several actors stand out in featured parts, among them John Blaylock in dual roles as a laconic model-store owner and a cynical foreign-service attaché and Sandy York as a chirpy denizen of Indiana with big hair and replete with zeal for any Hoosier she encounters.

Presented by Untitled Theater Company #61
at Walkerspace, 46 Walker St., NYC.
Feb. 23–March 15. Tue., Thu., and Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.
(212) 353-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com.

Ghost on Fire
February 25, 2008
By Christopher Murray

It's not quite clear to me why Oberon Theatre Ensemble chose to revive Ghost on Fire, Michael Weller's 1986 play about a disillusioned film director named Daniel Rittman (Don Harvey) who is facing the serious illness of his onetime collaborator and the potential breakup of his marriage. The play is creaky, to say the least, and replete with characters stuck in a perpetually dyspeptic mode as they wrestle with the disappointments and torpor of middle age. "You ponderous bastard," Rittman's old cameraman Toomie (Brad Fryman) shouts at him. But the play itself is a ponderous mediation on coming to terms with the loss of youthful dreams and optimism.

Oberon's production, directed by Eric Parness, is a little creaky itself, unfortunately. A series of monologues by the main characters is upstaged by actors setting up for the next scene, the blocking frequently seems unmotivated, and often the actors seem a little vague about their position in a scene, sometimes staring aimlessly into the ether during another's speech.

That being said, Harvey, with his deep-set eyes, communicates the essential loneliness of a man who has walked away from his life's passion. The most energy, however, is stirred up with seeming ease by Brianne Berkson, who plays several roles and excels as the trophy wife of an Israeli businessman. She slaps suntan lotion on her legs with a disdainful mixture of boredom, intelligence, and erotic charm and slaps down the dithering men around her in much the same way.

Presented by Oberon Theatre Ensemble
at the Lion Theater, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.
Feb. 21–March 9. Schedule varies.
(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.

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