As the temperatures continue to dip below freezing and Broadway holds off on its heavy-hitters for spring, Off-Broadway theaters continue to mount interesting work. I review a few of them below.
Elisabeth Karlin’s play is an oddly comic hybrid of Flirting with Disaster and Winter’s Bone. Louise (Susan Louise O’Connor), is essentially an invisible woman, unattached and living in Staten Island with her brother Scottie (Brian McManamon) and whichever girlfriend he seems to have at the moment. We meet her as she has just bitten the bullet, opting to put her meth0addicted brother into a rehab clinic. But she meets funds, and sets out on a quest to find the mother who disappeared from their lives years earlier.
Bodega sends Louise’s Alice own the proverbial rabbit hole. With the help of a detective played by the wonderful Gerardo Rodriguez, Louise embarks on a cross-country trek to track down her mother, encountering a variety of eclectic ciphers who may possess clues as to her mother’s whereabouts, with a cast that also includes Peter Brouwer, Nancy Rodriguez, and Rae C. Wright essaying multiple roles, and director Sturgis Warner succeeds at always plugging deeper than caricature. Bodega is an oversize show for a theater as compact as the Abingdon – kudos to the cast for working within such a tight space and for never losing focus despite the distracting sound of plumbing coming from above. It’s the magnificent O’Connor, though, who carries Bodega and shades in all sorts of trepidation and joy as Louise learns more about herself. In the span of a mere two and a half hours, O’Connor transforms Louise from milquetoast to miracle worker. That’s quite a journey indeed.
Abingdon Theater, 312 36th St. http://www.abingdontheatre.org/season/default.aspx. Through February 17.
I don’t pay much attention to pre-show hype. All the better to focus my review solely on what I what I see and not what was meant to be. But circumstance has made it nearly impossible to avoid the fact that Collision, Lyle Kessler’s new play being performed by The Amoralists at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, was intended to be more of a black comedy than the drama it now purports itself to be in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Either way, however, the show, directed by David Fofi and starring a superbly on point cast, offers plenty of commentary on the power of entitlement.
James Kautz is Grange and Nick Lawson is Bromley, two new university roommates, and it’s clear almost immediately that the seemingly laidback Grange knows just how to manipulate people into giving him what he wants, regardless of how little the end result may mean to him. Before long, Grange has bled his personality all over Alfred Schatz’s cleverly designed dorm room set and achieved guru status, amassing a small group of followers that include Bromley as well as sexually liberated fellow student Doe (Anna Stromberg) and philosophy professor Denton (Michael Cullen). Kessler’s commentary on the power of navel-gazing when it goes unchecked is astute and full of human comedy. Kautz is magnetic, dripping danger beneath Grange’s charismatic eagerness without being overly transparent – he recalls the young Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd. His co-stars also humanize what on the page could have been mere clay characters. It’s in the last twenty minutes, though, that the play sputters into something else that we might have seen coming but didn’t necessarily need. With a cast this good, Collision doesn’t need to end with a bang to end with a bang.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place. www.collisiontheplay.com. Through Feb. 17.
Hamish Linklater has already demonstrated a wide range as an actor on the stage and small screen but he now reveals potential as a playwright as well with The Vandal, which just opened at the Flea Theater. Well-structured but with a substantially disappointing payoff, Vandal, directed by Jim Simpson, recommends Linklater as a promising student but one perhaps not quite ready for his diploma.
An unnamed Kingston, NY, woman (Deirdre O’Connell) waits alone at a bus stop until an imposing teen (Noah Robbins) bugs her with questions and then asks her to buy him some beer at a liquor store run by Zach Grenier. The first few reveals of Vandal are promising, exciting even. The incisive way the three characters can see through one another suggest a palpable energy that runs through the Flea and sends it down a path that lets us know we are in for more than just a rehash of The Zoo Story. Eventually, however, all three of these enigmatic fellows turn out to be in support of a story full of trickery, and that’s a shame, because Simpson’s actors do such a sterling job of grounding their parts in realism. O’Connell aches with the weary reserve of a woman just trying to get through life untethered. Grenier’s no-nonsense combativeness belies a tender heart. And Robbins toes the line between invasive youngster and intriguing soul quite admirably.
Equally admirable is David M. Barber’s set design, making deceptive use of the small stage space and casting a different tone on each of Linklater’s scenes. But for a show that starts off so ominously, the final taste is a little easily digestible. Like the residue from Boy’s Cool Ranch Doritos, Vandal should linger a bit longer.
Flea Theater, 41 White Street. www.theflea.org. Through Feb. 17.
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