It's always good to see growth in the Off-Off-Broadway community, and one can't help but admire the enthusiasm spewing from the Distilled Spirits Theatre. In its first month of operations, the company is producing five shows and holding weekly readings. Yet one might also suspect that when a company is formed by a playwright and her significant other, perhaps the critical process is neglected. At least that is the impression left by Crunching Numbers, a compilation of one-acts written by Distilled Spirits co-founder Lynn Marie Macy.
All three plays in Crunching Numbers cry out for rewrites. They all have good ideas at the core, but the finished products ramble and veer into cliches or just plain silliness. And the only thing these "three related plays" (as they're promoted) have in common is a New York City setting.
First up was Once in a Blue Moon, which is part film-noir spoof, part baby-boomer nostalgia (theme songs and characters from old TV shows are invoked repeatedly) and part Brooklyn stereotype (people with surnames such as Marelli and Liebowitz talkin' like dis). It went on too long and got improbably sentimental at the end, and its self-consciousness about what it is satirizing is heavy-handed. One character, for instance, announces during a monologue that she is making a "direct audience address."
Crunching Numbers' middle piece, Twice Blessed, is a cliched and reactionary tale of two best friends who went their separate ways after college. One married her college sweetheart, is pregnant with her fourth child, and spends her days canning tomatoes and cleaning up toys in Wisconsin. The other is a Pepto Bismol-guzzling, cell phone-toting ad executive in Manhattan who hasn't had a date in two years. Haven't we gotten past the notion that these are the only two options for women-neither of which provides any personal or sexual fulfillment? Macy unleashes every offensive stereotype about "career gals" as well as homemakers, the Midwest, and New York City. Worst of all, the conclusion of the play comes down strongly on the side of, essentially, being barefoot and pregnant.
In the closer, The Thrice Three Muses, an unemployed actor-having experimented unsuccessfully with all the major religions-invents his own: Bardism. There has got to be a better way to honor Shakespeare, or to poke fun at the trendy obsession with spirituality, than Macy manages with this meandering piece. Jeffrey Eiche overdid it in the central role, imitating Kelsey "Frasier" Grammer imitating a Shakespearean ham. The supporting characters are poorly developed, and the focus lurches between comical (Charlie's crisis of faith) and poignant (his relationship with his wife).
Like Distilled Spirits' busy performance schedule, Crunching Numbers demonstrates tremendous ambition by the company. Praise is in order for the detailed sets (Lighting Elves Inc. is credited with "production design") and the hard-working cast. Jennifer Lynn Michael, Annalisa Hill, Karen Eterovich, and Gabrielle Gibbs stand out as appealing talents. (Also featuring Eric Morace, Stephen Federbusch, Jennifer Lynne Marcal, Janet E. Anderson, John Yearley, and Drew Zechman.)
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Copyright 1998 John Chatterton