This version of the Dickens tale perfectly exploits three themes that should ring sympathetic chimes in the East Village: anonymous sex, AIDS, and failed art. (As well as a little nudity.)
The story concerns over-the-hill composer Haspel Preminuce (Joe Pichette), who is having a holiday health crisis: he thinks he has AIDS, but his doctor is too busy to give him his test results. Thinking through his few sexual contacts of the last decade, he fastens on a hustler, Tiny Tim (named for his penis size) as the source of his infection. Haspel invokes the ghosts of four ex-lovers (a woman and three men) to tell him whether he has AIDS and whether he will survive. They give him ambiguous advice, the gist of which is to take Tim back into his life and try to live one day at a time. (And go back to composing.) All ends happily with the good news of a negative diagnosis.
What makes the story less successful than even the bald synopsis above might suggest is the manner in which Clark tells the story. Haspel carries most of the expository ball through monologue, which quickly got repetitive. And his self-pity! At least Scrooge is interesting because he is so outrageously unsympathetic, like Richard III. His conversion is all the more dramatic. Haspel whines a lot and lists his AIDS-like symptoms. Bottom line: it's not very funny.
It is hard to blame the actors for the defects of their parts, especially when they played so many -- none with the resonance of Dickens's tale. With the exceptions of Haspel and Brad Chandler as Tim, everyone played three supporting roles: Diane Bradshaw as Haspel's mother, an ex, and his sister; Jay Bonnell as another ex and two other characters; Barry Ford as an ex, a kindly Irish cop, and Dr. Colorado; and Nicholas Van Eeden as an ex and two other characters. (But then again, one actor seemed to go ``up'' so badly in one scene, that Pichette had to prompt him through the rest of it.) (Chandler gave Tim a nice edge of vulnerability and a believable Hispanic twist. Why Tim had to be ``ethnic,'' except perhaps to assuage Haspel's white liberal guilt, wasn't clear.) (And why did Tim have to be Tiny? And who was the size queen? And who let Clark direct his own play?)
Production values were minimal and didn't need to be more, except when Haspel played the piano; the sound emanating from it could have been a little more hi-fi. The lighting changes for the ghost scenes were effective.
Clark has been ``one of La MaMa's playwrights since 1964.'' A visit next door to the late show of Polly's Panic Attack showed that La MaMa has stronger -- and funnier -- dramaturgical strings to its bow. (Set: Ian Gordon; Music: Ned Parkhouse; Costumes: Lisa Zinni; Lighting: Yun Young Koo.)
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton
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