Satirical Arrow just grazes from “what do you mean”

Review by Robert Liebowitz

The people at Ego Actus (nice name!) have offered before the Gods of Theater “what do you mean,” a play by the prolific Bruce A! Kraemer, as part of the New York Theatre Experience, being performed at the Gene Frankel theater downtown on Bond Street.

The main problem is the play itself. The playwright simply does not know what he wants to say, or what he wishes to impart to the audience. The play seems to be a satire about theater people in general, with specific unmanned drones aimed  at the various head honchos who run those summer festivals that has suddenly sprung up in the city.

It starts with hope and humor: within minutes, the fourth wall is obliterated, the lights take on a life of their own, and actors/actresses are running around, going here and there, breaking all conventions and operating on many levels, all the while poking fun at itself (“I have a Master’s Degree in Theater!” one of the actresses keeps shouting to the heavens, as if her prayers for a paying job will be answered). The action is light and bouncy, almost skit-like, but funny in spots and always with its heart in a good place. The high point of the ‘drama’ is given by the talented Alexandra Cohen Spiegler, who plays Peyton the Intern–she turns toward the audience, musical triangle in hand, and in that lovely, hilarious Carol Kane kind of way (who? Google her), explains what a head shot is–what it is supposed to be at least, and all the absurdity that surrounds it. Funny, and very clever.

Soon, however, the dog-and pony show gives way to harsher realities–there is no rooting interest in any of the characters, even the ‘lead’–playwright Chris Oakmont, performed in a way-over-the-top fashion by Teddy Lytle. The inside jokes are too inside; the broad physical humor falls flat most of the time. There is nothing at stake–the ‘play’ depicts the rehearsal process from page to stage–kind of, with dismal, unfunny results. Of course, this being an attempt at satire, comedy should rule the roost, but it simply doesn’t. The last thirty minutes or so were, quite frankly, interminable, and when the ‘play’ is re-tooled in a workshop scenario, much of it must be deleted or greatly diminished.

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Kudos to the acting troupe, who did their best.

Singled out for particular praise would be J. Dolan Byrnes as the Producer (winner of a Planet Connections award for this role), who had a keen since of timing, even while Rome was burning around him; and Ms Spiegler, who performed several roles deftly and with equal aplomb.

Lesson to be learned: When you take a shot at theater,

you better make sure your own theater is in order.

 

 

 

 

Theatrical journeyman, Robert Liebowitz, is a published author of non-fiction, theatrical works, and soon his first novel. He is also a produced playwright and acclaimed educator. He has contributed to periodicals ranging from blogistes to the New York Times.

More Meat Needed on “Bones”

Review by Joseph Conway

 

Break None of His Bones is a new play by Joanne de Simone. As a part of John Chatterton’s Midtown International Theatre Festival, the more ambitious two-act vision for this play had to be condensed into a single, 45-minute act. The story itself stems from the old tale of Leopold and Loeb, two murderous socialites from the 20s. The true story of Leopold and Loeb is a dark stain on Chicago’s already grim history. These two infamous villains kidnapped and killed 14-year old Robert Franks and killed him solely out of a desire to commit the “perfect crime.” Break None of His Bones takes a different and more modern approach that is far from “perfect,” but far from downright “criminal” as well.

Break None of His Bones follows the tale of Justin and Austin (Brandon Fox and Emilio Evans, respectively), two ambitious and brilliant young prep school students and members of the popular clique. Being the spoiled children that they are, they grow bored of their assigned psychology project and instead devise a new “project” to see if they can get the decidedly less popular Winston to commit suicide. You know, just for kicks. The boys continually veil their project under science, calling it a “study on agoraphobia,” completely ignoring the fact that you can’t actually simulate the effects of a phobic condition on someone who doesn’t already suffer from the condition. This decision came from students with supposedly genius-level IQs… It’s a rather gaping plot hole that continued to bug me as time went on.

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Of course, I wasn’t nearly as bugged as the actor playing Justin (Fox), who rushed through every line like he was on fire and being chased by a swarm of bees… Bees that were also on fire. Terrifying. Perhaps it was the strict 45-minute limit placed on the show, but the entire affair felt rushed, like key components were missing. Toward the end, there comes a point where the entire script seems to jump ahead several pages!

In all, Break None of His Bones is a solid concept. It’s a great idea to integrate modern themes such as social media into the old story of Leopold and Loeb, but the execution is a fair bit off. I left the theater feeling slightly bewildered, wondering how many pages of the script had to be omitted in this final version. It’s a shame, because the bare bones of a great story are there, but it looks like many of them had to be broken to fit it into the restrictive time slot.

 

Joseph Conway is a classically trained actor and celebrated article writer and critic, quoted often and well for his reviews of operas.