By Joe Salerno
Directed by Joe Salerno
Theatre 22, 54 W. 22nd St.
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri
Joe Salerno must be the hardest-working playwright on or off Broadway. In addition to directing and producing his own plays, he was the stagehand and played a small role in one of them. Some advice to Mr. Salerno? Lighten his load. The sets could be simplified so he's not needed so much during scene changes, and the last scene of the play Joe Hard-E Has Fun-where he appears as an actor-should be eliminated.
One more piece of advice: hire age-appropriate actors. One of Joe's first lines in Joe Hard-E Has Fun is, "I'm not even 40." The actor who said it, Johnny Blaze Leavitt, looked like he recently cleared 20. He went on to repeatedly lament his wife's physical deterioration. According to Joe, she was quite the babe when they were courting years ago but now everything has started to sag. Yet Joe's wife was played by Amy Overman, who was youthful and pretty and had perfectly upright breasts.
The first piece in this duo of Salerno's works, Cancer Chic, shows how much better the material fares when it's in the right hands. Vanessa Britting and Sara Southey were perfectly cast as tragically hip teenagers who will embrace any trend or affectation-from navel rings to bisexuality-if it's been sanctioned by Hollywood. As status-conscious teenage girls, their main obsession is being thin, and the play's title hints at the lengths to which they'll go to lose weight (Southey's rubbing her allegedly carcinogenic cell phone on her thighs was a priceless visual gag). Britting and Southey were adorably vapid and ingratiatingly malicious-a stereotype of the high school A-list, sure, but satires like Cancer Chic thrive on such humor. Overman was also miscast age-wise here, as Southey's mother, as was Martin Verni as the school principal; they had to resort to using unnatural voices to sound "old" and serious. Cancer Chic is really an extended comedy skit; this becomes most obvious as it slackens to a conclusion, and as with many sketches, its punchline is not as funny as its preceding jokes.
Joe Hard-E Has Fun was only sporadically funny but relatively benign. The major flaws in this story of one man's midlife crisis were unimaginative staging and the miscasting of young actors. Since it is, as promised, a very dark comedy, the characters never take the noble course of action-and by the end Joe has landed in prison, which leads to Salerno's brief turn as a predatory inmate. This scene should be eliminated since the previous scene ends on a funnier note, and prison sex is not only the comedy world's most overused joke but also a very distasteful way to end the evening.
As for the sets, in both plays, all the furniture (table and chairs) and most of the props could have remained onstage for every scene, with the actors making whatever minor shifts were appropriate. Instead, there were many clunky scene changes and indiscreet appearances by Salerno. Also, several times between scenes, the lights came up partially, then went off, then came up fully. It looked like a mistake by the lightboard operator. (Also featuring Karron Karr and Kathy Searle.)
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Copyright 1999 Adrienne Onofri