NATURAL'S IN IT
By Michael Dorian
Directed by Michael Dorian
Nektonic/Good Blood Productions
The Greenwich Street Theater
547 Greenwich St. (591-2238)
Equity Showcase (through July 10)
Review by David Mackler
Everyone in Natural's In It is addicted to something, has an excuse for his or her actions, and harbors a secret of some kind. Set "in the not-so-distant future," the play progresses in fits and starts, but Dorian does make some trenchant observations about life in 1999.
Fresh from detox and desperate to score some dope, Jade (Maria Teresa Rangel) was surrounded by yellow - the bedroom wall, bed sheets, furniture, table, radio, wastebasket - all were yellow. Nathan (John Gardner) obsessively works on his computer, and compulsively checks to make sure the stove is off. The stove was red, as were the counter, table, chairs, telephone, appliances, wall, and his computer. Marshall (Ford Austin), a convicted killer, was dressed in red, seated inside a circle of red and yellow flowers. The pattern was obvious, but the set (designed by Joe dos Santos) was excellent, making the primary colors an additional character in the play.
"The outside is all people ever see" says a radio commercial broadcast, but these characters are rotting inside and out. There are also Mac and Jack (Jonathan Mazer and Marc Levine), a couple of couch potatoes seated above the main set, each with his own remote control, who cannot and do not want to stop watching television. Raised above the main action as they were, they also seemed to be watching the drama unfold below, but except for one episode where they mention finding a body in a dumpster, they don't ever seem to go outdoors. The exploitative and violent shows they watch suffice.
Who that body is and how it connects each of the characters is revealed slowly, but Dorian seems less interested in drama than commentary. Nathan is not just writing, he is creating the Bible of Nathan. His mother (Joyce James) voices concern for her son, but is more interested in appearances - hers above all. Marshall argues with his lawyer (Xander Bailey), demanding a firing squad. The lawyer is contemplating entering politics. And the killer excepted, everybody has a stake in showing a genetic or chemical connection to explain why they do what they do.
The actors gamely navigated their way through the author's ideas, and each was given an opportunity to take center stage. Gardner was endearingly irritating in his obsessive/compulsiveness; James, as an Upper East Side lady who lunches, was fine but underused; Mazer and Levine were good as the spuds but better as Agents 1 and 0, binary spies sent to "deactivate" Nathan; Bailey made his motivations clear as the lawyer; J King was sympathetic, and even loving, in his efforts to get Jade clean. (The gimmick of having an audience member play a messenger was unnecessary, and mercifully brief.) Austin was unfortunately burdened by speeches that were heavy with authorial intent. But Rangel, as the drug addict, was extraordinary. Jade was not terribly likable, yet she was rewardingly watchable as Rangel spun acting gold out of lines and actions that would not seem to support it. Having her sing Jacques Brel's "Carousel" was heavy-handed, but she threw herself into it wholeheartedly.
"Carousel" served as a theme to the whole piece ("we're
on a carousel/a crazy carousel"), especially as the last
scene is a repeat of the first. As for the somewhat obscure title,
it is likely meant to have a double edge - everything we do comes
from our natures, whether chemically or genetically influenced.
That doesn't make these characters (or us) admirable, just natural,
for whatever it's worth.
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Copyright 1999 David Mackler