The Bad and the Better isn’t a musical, but it shows off the kind of excesses one rarely finds in a straight drama. A big cast, a heavily detailed set (this on the same stage, the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, whose previous tenant, The Big Meal, consisted of just a few tables and chairs), and a near-operatic storyline involving heightened characters traveling. Bad, as written by Derek Ahonen, transports the company he co-founded, the Amoralists, from its downtown roots, but he hasn’t lost his touch for carefully stylized mayhem. Bad my not be perfect, but it’s a complex symphony that should be marveled at.
Directed with great flair by Daniel Aukin, Bad is a comic noir with several threads sharing central stage space. In one, sad playwright Venus (David Nash) – his big hit was a manifesto about anarchists entitled “The Sad Singers on Stanton Street,” a likely reference to Ahonen’s own “The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side” – who gets caught up with a real life gang of rebels when he falls in love with Faye (Anna Stromberg). Her gang members include Charity (Selene Beretta) and Justice (James Kautz), gay hacker Scotty (Nick Lawson) and his partner Edmond (Chris Wharton), and an untamable firebrand named Inez (a hilarious Regina Blandon), paired with Nino (Byron Anthony).
At the same time, detective Ricky (William Apps) must contend with a puzzling series of murder-suicides plaguing the Long island area as well as an overly flirtatious secretary, Miss Hollis (Sarah Lemp). In an ensemble that numbers more than two dozen, including original and newly adopted members of the Amoralist family, other threads emerge that are too numerous to introduce here, dealing with such contemporary concerns as corruption, the environment, and Occupy uprisings. Besides, that would cut down on the surprise factor. But suffice it to say that the multiple plots of Bad collide in ways that are both dramatically rewarding and logical, even if only in hindsight.
At times, Ahonen gets a little too cocky for his own good, using Venus as a surrogate for himself and proffering winking lines like “No one wants to see death onstage anymore. Unless of course it’s like some coming-of-age tale in which siblings deal with the death of a parent to pancreatic cancer.” Bad works best in its loopier, archer first act than it does in its climactic second act, a series of reveals and revenges. But his camp, both onstage and off, overcomes any such minor quibbles. Phil Carluzzo’s sound work, Natalie Robin’s lighting and Alfred Schatz’s thorough set design all plunge the audience firmly into Ahonen’s crazy territory. And Aukin’s cast (in true ensemble form, they all get generous amounts of stage time), particularly Apps, Nash, Lemp and Stromberg, commits entirely to Bad’s changing tonal challenges.
Make no doubt about it. With Ahonen holding the baton, this orchestra hits all the right notes.
The Bad and the Better
Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, Clinton; (212) 279-4200, ticketcentral.com
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