Identity Heft

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Posts, Theater.


You’ve got to pity poor
Ned Frangipani (Anthony Manna), the protagonist—if not quite hero—of Ken
Ferrigni’s quirky new philoso-comedy Mangella
, playing at the
Drilling Company Theater. Antisocial and saddled with the responsibility of
caring for a father suffering from dementia, Ned pretty much hates the world at
large. In fact, the only thing he does care for is the tool he uses to escape
from it all: his computer. It’s a figure that means so much to him, he even has
a name for it (Gabriella). And because she’s as vital to this promising—but
eventually labored—story as any of the living characters, she even has an
actress playing her (Ali Perlwitz).

When Mangella does work, it works
because of its quirks. For instance, Ned’s father (Bob Austin McDonald) fell
victim to a stroke, and ever since has believed himself to be ’40s blues
musician Mangella St. James. So what form of TLC does his son employ? Ned binds
the man to a chair and orders a prostitute for his father. But while his father
wants a big, African-American hooker, Ned orders something else entirely,
ending up with Lily (Hannah Wilson), a thin, white prostitute who comes armed
with a knife, a syringe and an agenda.

All of which makes for a
diverting first act. The show is a gamer’s paradise, thanks to the technical
team corralled by director Joe Jung of Project: Theater. J.J. Bernard and
Francois Portier cleverly construct a man-child haven for Ned that makes him
king of his hermetically sealed world, and Nick Borisjuk’s computer sound
effects and Jessi Blue Gormezano’s costumes add enough humor to remind us that
we should always be laughing.

But that’s the problem.
As the second act centers itself into a confrontation between Ned and Lily, Mangella
’s idiosyncrasies
flatten out into a rote, talky affair. Ferrigni provides so much exposition to
explain what is occurring that the show experiences a system overload. And
since some of what is described never materializes onstage, it begins to feel
gratuitous. What’s missing is a sense of movement. Perhaps making the character
of Ned less reactive could alter that. This is, after all, a guy who uses
Gabriela to infect porno sites and harass the owners for money. (Maybe you don’t
have to pity poor Ned after all.) He should be able to drive the action more
than Ferrigni has drawn him to do.

Nonetheless, Jung
elicits spot-on performances from his talented quartet of actors. Manna does
yeoman’s work to ground Ned amidst the absurdity that ensues around him; he
perfectly captures the pulse of the show. Perlwitz and Wilson both embrace
their characters’ more madcap moments with aplomb, and McDonald believably
conveys what it is to be a man whose own mind has revolted against him, striking
the right balance of pathos and humor.

Ferrigni’s definitely on
the right path in Mangella
. Maybe a simple upgrade will be all that is
needed to ratchet up the fun factor from occasionally infectious to truly
viral.

Mangella

Through Oct. 29, The
Drilling Company, 236 W. 78th St., www.projecttheater.org; $18.00

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