Opening a vein

Veins and Thumbtacks

By Jonathan Marc Sherman
Directed by Nicole Lerario
West End Productions
Abingdon Theatre Company
432 West 42nd St., 4th fl. (352-3101)
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 24)
Review by Jenny Sandman

Warning: if you want a quick pick-me-up, don’t see Veins and Thumbtacks. If you want to hear great writing and see talented actors, go -- but it’s an utterly depressing play.

Veins and Thumbtacks spans 10 years,1981-1991, in the life of Jimmy Bonaparte (Ben Hindell) somewhere in New Jersey. Jimmy leads a dead-end life as a stock clerk at the local grocery store. At 18 he is stuck taking care of his wheelchair-bound grandmother (Cam Kornman). He resents the responsibility, and she resents the dependency; they take a morbid pleasure in screaming obscenities and insults at each other. When Jimmy’s girlfriend, Annie (Abby Overton), gets pregnant, he tries to convince her to get an abortion. She refuses, being Catholic, and so they get married. He loves his new daughter very much, and we suspect he loves his wife, but they fight continually. Jimmy takes refuge in the biweekly open-mic night at the local comedy club. He is dreadful, but he keeps performing. After a few years, he gets his own show on cable access. The comedy routine carries him through his divorce, his grandmother’s death, and his continued career as a stock clerk. Eventually he comes to his senses, and realizes what a terrible comic he is and what a waste his life has been; only then can he move forward and seek some sort of real purpose in his life.

Sherman is a fine playwright, and it’s to his credit that he can spin such a disheartening tale about a total washout that still manages to leave hope of redemption at the end. It’s not often a writer can pull off a play in which the main character never really grows or develops. Also, the characters manage to be thoroughly New Jersey without being total New Jersey stereotypes. And the final home run for Sherman is the appalling comedy routine, so bad it’s good (but never funny).

The dynamic acting propelled the script along, especially that of Hindell (Jimmy) and Overton (Annie), who had a really interesting dynamic with each other, even during their shrill and near-constant fights. They sustained a high level of energy, despite the joyless story. The lighting (Lisa Weinschrott) and sound cues (Mike Bazini) were a little off at times, running long between scenes, but the direction by Nicole Lerario was inventive, and the set by Daniel Zagendorf was properly bleak.

It was a fine production, and could be an antidote to an overdose of the saccharine pre-holiday atmosphere; but it's not a show for the already downhearted. But if you’re in a good mood, go, and enjoy (you will!).

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Jenny Sandman