Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

Unnatural Acts

Written and directed by Rich Cole
The Urban Rock Project
Theatre 54
244-250 W. 54th 12th fl. (212/591-2396)
Equity showcase (closes May 18)
Review by Charles Battersby

When writer/director Rich Cole took the stage after the show, he pointed out that his cast of Broadway alums generally do not lower themselves to doing Off-Off-Broadway showcases. This was by no means egotism. This first-rate cast and Cole's daring script deserve to be seen by more than 99 people at a time.

The show consists of seven vignettes. All deal with hot topics from the past few years, ranging from September 11 to Elian Gonzales (remember him?). Swerving from hysterical to piercingly tragic (often in the same scene), the script doesn't have a single weak spot. The order in which the scenes are placed keeps the funny ones just where they're needed, giving the audience the right amount of comic relief before pointing out how the world seems to be controlled by "some supernatural presence of 'Evil' in our society." As his own director, Cole employed a good deal of subtlety, only hinting at the dark twists that come at the end of most scenes.

The show gets off to a treasonous start by saying that the American government is responsible for creating Osama bin Laden in the first place. "Stingers: A Speculative History" keeps the comments satirical but hints at dark things to come in the rest of the show.

The following scenes keep up the darkly satirical comedy while giving the audience painfully insightful glimpses into the minds of child molesters and murderers. Stories include a scene about two surprisingly likable, murderous, racist rednecks (Todd Lawson and David B. Heuvelman); a subway preacher (Joey Collins) who explains why everyone except him is going to Hell; a look at what may one day happen to Elian Gonzales (Jason Manuel Olazabal); the story of a baby-killing prom queen (Kelly McAndrews); and a scene about a naked, pyromaniacal rape victim, played by Todd Lawson (who hangs to the left, by the way).

Lighting design (Steven Petrilli) and sound (Chris Bailey) blended together perfectly, simulating off-stage effects like helicopter crashes, buildings exploding, and subway cars screeching to a halt. Most scenes used a totally empty stage, but two scenes employed simple set pieces. Although sparse, the handful of set pieces were well-crafted and effectively conveyed locations. The costumes depicted numerous times and places, and helped the cast play their multiple roles convincingly. At times Kelly McAndrews's costuming even provided the audience deep insights into the characters, such as when a middle-aged man with a mid-life crisis enters wearing head-to-toe Gen X gear, straight out of a Mountain Dew commercial.

The only flaw in the costumes (and indeed the whole show) came from an anachronistic Spiderman T-Shirt. In a scene set on September 11, 2001, a character wore a T-shirt featuring an image from Kevin Smith's "Spiderman/Black Cat" miniseries, issue #1, published in June of 2002. The fact that a lack of Spiderman dramaturgy is the play's greatest flaw should only prove what a brilliant piece of work Unnatural Acts is.

(Also features Mathew J. Cody and Patricia Dalen.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby