Ken Wolf’s venerable Manhattan Rep, now on 47th street, has – for some time – served as an incubator for new works by dynamic authors. What one can expect to see when attending one of his series is a classroom situation. A tiny space, folding chairs pushed close together and amuse bouche of works – each no more than 15 minutes or so – exploring interesting concepts in new and unique ways. The New Works 2018 series 7 was surely the epitome of that.
OH THE SPORT OF LOVE: The series opened with Nancy Allen Lundy and musicians Michael Fennelly on piano and a brilliant Gabryel Smith on violin handing us a breezy French[ish] one-woman musical written by Lisa Ralia Heffter. Lundy, in excellent voice, tells the story of a café that – thanks to a rainy day and cramped space – became a love nest for so many patrons. The joyous piece was perfect for the cramped theatre and made us all feel we were there on a rainy Sunday in France. John Tedeschi could have positioned Lundy to be a bit more romantic or passionate or simply fun – but when the ending is revealed we see why. While this made the piece clever – even snarky, I would have loved a happy[er] ending. All in all, well done.
LUCRETIA: Jumping on the “50 Shades” bandwagon, the second piece by Steve Gold and directed by Francisco Martinez, tried valiantly to give us a lampooned version of D/s relationships – complete with Christian Gray black outfits and veiled passion. Brett Bullard and Brandon Shapiro tried [a bit too hard] to be humorous. This is not their faults necessarily as one could see the chemistry between them. The dialogue could have been more nuanced. But as stated, these are incubators so there truly was potential. The female characters were better fleshed out and Elizabeth Piantrangelo and Sierra Paletta used that fact to their advantage.
CAROL: Anthony J. Piccione – an author of some notoriety in the New York indie scene of late – delivered a very clever one-two punch about addiction. His concept of showing us the addition’s personality above the addict was inspired and really brilliant. Jessica Slaught directed charismatic Michelle Martinelli and comic Joseph Rothchild like a musical and that made the dance macabre that much more “dancey.” This is obviously a piece that can be longer as the reveal at the end was the biggie where a piece of this intellect can surely have explored its topic longer. Piccione should enlarge this to a full length or at least a 90-minute piece.
BACHELOR’S APARTMENT: This is another example of more pages would have been necessary. Marianna Mott Newirth’s play was an intellect premise of the patriarchy and what it has done to the next generation – and to itself. However, to keep it in the proper running time, it seemed a bit sitcom-like and shallow. Walter Zimmerman and Geoff Pictor as the sins of the father visited on the son (and visa versa) showed signs of an engrossing relationship and parable to match. They just needed more time. What we had here was a great scene one.
HAL AND HIS ATOMIC RAY GUN: Thanks to the brilliant acting ability of Danny McWilliams as Hal, we are taken on an engrossing ride into the life and mind of a homeless man insisting he had been probed by aliens. The reveal was something quite different and tremendously powerful. Again, this should be looked at as a first draft as the concept of reality, psychosis and psychotic episodes, accountability, friendship and family, and so much more were thrown into this quick but engrossing tale. While Alex Taylor, April Leohardt, and Bobby O’Leary were part of the cast, the need to get the information to us in such a short period made them more supporting to McWilliams than they should have been. Straton Rushing wrote a well-done piece and could write much more into it while director Cammerron Baits built dynamic tension and ironic humor into the performances thus deftly keeping the piece moving. Oe can only imagine what this promising director might do with a fuller script. This play is also – like Piccione’s play – we want more, more, more!
Wolf’s Manhattan Rep – like the pieces involved – should give us more. His format is unique, even by today’s standards but harkened us back to the days of college theatre when the communal experience was as important as the piece. Maybe adding the dimension of more educational components and even a chance to bring the plays back once more developed might serve the theatre well. Regardless … got an idea … here is where you can do it to a full house.