They Sure Are Strange in New York | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Review

They Sure Are Strange in New York

by

comment

THEY SURE ARE STRANGE IN NEW YORK

Gallery Theatre

The common denominator of these one-acts is that both plays take place in New York City and involve an eccentric married couple. Moreover, I'd say that both plays have their roots in America's embarrassing failure, back during the 60s, to come up with a domestic version of Ionesco-like absurdist drama. But the more stupid and pointless plays of this genre proved to be, the more popular they became with thespian groups and undergraduate directors. So that now ersatz absurdism is a sort of quaint tradition in our amateur theater, and the woman in the floral print dress and cat's-eye glasses can take her rightful place in the Natural History Museum of American Theater alongside the vaudeville comedian with the rubber chicken.

The first of the one-acts is Scott Caming's Reno Bound or The Real McCoy. The scene is the morning after at the apartment of a washed-up TV-commercial director, Reno, and his wife, Mary. Two actor/waiters, Beth and Russell, have spent the night in the hopes of advancing their careers. But Reno tells them that they'll never make it unless, deep down inside, they hate dirt enough to be convincing advocates of detergent. Loosely following this theme, the play merrily skips along as Reno, who comes to believe he's a western sheriff, is forced to take Beth and Russell into custody to purge their minds of filth. After strenuous argument--"This is what it's all about: Mary and her apple pie"--Beth and Russell remain unconverted, and Reno, now incredibly disillusioned, shoots them.

Dramatic import--zero. Amusing dialogue--negligible. Social relevance--well, that depends on what you care to read into the play, and in this case I'm not inspired to care. That sounds rather harsh, since, when you boil the play down in a summary, it seems like a wild idea. But the dramatization of that idea makes all the difference, and Caming's talent doesn't even compare to the lesser work of Albee, Kopit, or the early, undistinguished plays of Shepard.

Nor is this script miraculously salvaged in production. The acting provides only the leanest of caricatures. Randall Packer (as Reno) does a madman impression more suitable for a bathroom mirror. Fran Austin (as Mary, Reno's compliant wife) is bland and motivationless. Veronica Petrillo (Beth) can flirt with her eyes and chew gum at the same time, but that's all she does, and she does it to an unnerving degree. Only Timothy Marquardt (Russell) seems halfway grounded in the play--as if he's experiencing the dramatic situation for the first time--but then maybe I'm wrong, and he's just having trouble with his lines. And if that's the case, who can blame him?

The second one-act on the bill is My Next Husband Will Be a Beauty, by Tom Eyen, also known to thespians as the author of The White Whore and the Bit Player. My Next Husband is the better-written play of the evening, but only by virtue of its greater quantity of amusing dialogue. Because, really, this play doesn't amount to much of anything either.

Virginia ("the typical modern virgin") meets her eccentric Aunt Henrietta and Uncle Henry at the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel. The aunt and uncle are in the midst of their third divorce, something they do every three years or so to avoid committing the sin of adultery, so they're ill disposed to deal with Virginia's grief over the recent death of her mother. Well, Henry consoles her a little, if fondling can pass for consoling. Meanwhile, Henrietta rags on about her problems, and Henry explains that male narcissism is really a matter of pride, while a young man inexplicably draws Virginia behind a column and stabs her with an ice pick.

Once again, very little leaps to mind to justify the production of this play, except that it does seem to fit quite well with Reno Bound. Certainly Veronica Petrillo (who plays Virginia) can appreciate the symmetry of two stage deaths in a single evening: once for impurity, and once for virginity. And in both one-acts, New York City is the home of deranged, self-involved people, randomly trapped in a net of casual violence, for whatever reason. Yup, they sure are strange in New York.

None of the performances by the same four actors in My Next Husband are particularly redemptive. Fran Austin is much more animate in the role of Henrietta, but her caricature is so dull I had a hard time paying attention to what she was saying. Veronica Petrillo's typical virgin is ironically similar to her streetwise actor, except for a certain added buoyance. And Randall Packer--I decided, having compared his performances of Reno and Uncle Henry--is Randall Packer.

More forceful direction might have helped, but it's hard to criticize Timothy Lynch's direction, since there's little of it in evidence. So I guess I'm short on recommendations, either to potential audience or potential theater artists, on how to get the most out of this production. Some things you just have to walk away from and call it an evening, and I'm glad the walk to the el stop was only a couple blocks long.

Add a comment