The spice of life

Vital Signs: A Six-Week Festival of New Works Week #2

Vital Theatre
432 W. 42nd St., third floor (592-0129)
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 19)
Review by Julie Halpern

Theatregoers who could drag themselves away from the Subway Series were treated to a delightfully racy evening of high-energy fun, courtesy of three talented emerging playwrights and Vital Theatre's engaging ensemble. The evening sped by thanks to the taut, fast-paced direction of all three shows.

Maureen by Will Ryman (directed by Heidi Shurak) reveals the romantic dreams of a lonely woman who creates a fantasy life around meeting the perfect man. Her reverie is constantly interrupted by two warring alter-egos, one of which eggs her on in her quest for romance, the other reminding her of what jerks all men are. Her handsome suitor arrives with flowers, loves her cooking, and is in essence every woman's dream come true. A jolt of reality comes when an irate neighbor pounds on the door complaining about the noise, and Maureen realizes she dreamed the whole thing. Eugenie Bagur was a lovely, sympathetic Maureen; William Cook was a handsome, engaging Michael, the dream man; and Stefanie Zadravec, as A, and Jennifer True, as B, were funny and poignant as a post-modern equivalent of a Greek chorus.

Just in time for the election, Power Hungry by Gary Giovanetti (directed by Sharon Fallon) chronicles the presidential campaign of Senator Phillips, an affable, good ol' boy politico who seems poised for success. Phillips has hired a young campaign manager named Glen to help him put a positive spin on an unusual problem. Phillips is a cannibal: he has eaten a number of his political adversaries¯indeed, he has a preference for overweight white men. Even the jaded Glen is appalled at Phillips's revelations and is torn between revulsion and a desire to be at the helm of a winning campaign. Richard G. Cottrell created a winning portrait of a charming political animal constantly amused about the fuss the press is making about his problem. Cliff James's self-important yuppie Glen was a scream, particularly in his efforts to avoid becoming Phillips's next meal.

In Rural Play by Brent Askari, directed by Laura Stevens, a farm family attempts to persevere amidst physical hardships, emotional dysfunction, and just plain stupidity. When their farm is destroyed by a tornado, Jeb Jones and his family vow to rebuild. Their plight gets even worse when Zebulon Ricketts, the elderly codger who owns the land, threatens to confiscate the property if the Joneses don't come up with $10,000 within six months. Jeb's wife Elma takes charge of the situation, and unbeknownst to her husband starts a successful gun-running business, which quickly brings in the needed cash. When Jeb learns the unsavory source of the money, he burns it. Meanwhile, daughter Eppie Sue has gotten pregnant, and son Zeke has become a transvestite. The final blow comes as Ricketts reveals that Jeb and Elma are actually brother and sister.

Jonathan Smit's country bumpkin Jeb was a comic gem; Felicia Scarangello's skill at physical comedy added an extra dimension to her excellent work as the wide-eyed, knocked-up Eppie Sue; Jeff Dawson's Zeke was a hairy-legged charmer in his sequined gown; Robert Lehrer's Ricketts was an outrageously creepy old curmudgeon; and Geraldine Bartlett contributed the strongest performance as the beleaguered but resourceful Elma.

David Frydrychowski's simple, flattering lights, and the simple sets and costumes (uncredited), created an easy, inviting ambience.
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern