Any theatre group that encourages audience members to keep their cell phones turned on during the performance isn't going to deliver an average, ordinary show. Mono, the latest creation from Another Urban Riffs Productions, has been enjoying an open run for the past two years at downtown venue Surf Reality. It is definitely not your run-of-the-mill black-box comedy. In fact, the presentation jumps right out of the box and into your face, as its cast members move throughout the theatre space, sitting next to you, asking for a kiss, soliciting your spit, even puking on your shoes.
Set in a run-down watering hole on the Lower East Side, Mono aims to poke fun at the bar scene in modern-day Manhattan. Rather than mirror the standard experiences and encounters associated with bar-hopping, the play distorts the stereotypes to create a frenetic, exaggerated look at the people who populate these hangouts.
Writer/director Steven Tanenbaum turns the eclectic exercise into an interactive event for the audience, who at any moment may be prodded or propositioned, accused or accosted. While some of the conventions are commonplace - talking sock puppets, drunk barflies, the nerd who thinks he's cool - the way they are used is for the most part unconventional. By the end of the evening, viewers will gain a few insights into these strange "strangers in the night," and are hopefully a bit more prepared the next time they go "looking for love in all the wrong places."
Tanenbaum's staging, with the solid help of assistant director Yafit Hallely, took plenty of risks, with characters stumbling in between paying viewers and soliciting participation (not to mention saliva samples). Every inch of the intimate room was used to maximum capacity, and if viewers felt like they were right in the middle of things, it's because they were.
The baker's-dozen ensemble members were all comically adept and committed to their roles, no matter how outrageous. Lawrence Jansen made the nerd likeable despite his earnest advances, as did Brett Christensen as a "doormat" who longs for the attention of his male friend. Maya Macdonald was touching as a mute girl whose rehab reject sister (Tara Pesce) abandons her early in the evening, leaving her with only a sock puppet for company. Pesce also supplies the very funny voice of the sock. Yafit Hallely was a no-nonsense waitress who gets in everyone's business, and Tricia McAlpin worked the crowd as a quick-talking, high-strung urbanologist. Kerri Tucker scored points as a sexy best friend, Yasu Ikeda tried out his hilarious English skills on anyone who listened, and Sera Demira gave some humorous outbursts as a cellphone user. Nick Paglino, Bryan Safi, Kena Cuesta, and Nicole Fanti took turns riding the rollercoaster of career and relationship hell. These talented actors actually rotate each week in three different roles, making their achievement even more impressive.
The uncredited lighting and costuming were cleverly executed, and sound by Brett Hammond of Sonic Pulse Audio Productions was fittingly funky.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac