Signs of the times

American Hieroglyphics

By Larry Myers
Directed by Monte Zanca
Theatre for The New City
155 First Ave. (254-1109)
Non-union production (closes April 16)
Review by Adam Cooper

Subversive and innovative playwright Larry Myers returned to the East Village with American Hieroglyphics, a disturbingly entertaining two-part play reminiscent of Robert Altman's Nashville. As in his work Beanie Baby Addiction, which played last year at this theatre, Myers presents through monologues and two-scenes characters audiences would probably rather not believe could exist. These folk from rural America all have stories to tell. What they don't realize is that through their storytelling they expose how shallow, hateful, deranged, or downright psychotic they themselves really are. What is so unsettling for the audience about Myers's characters is that in spite of their removal from reality they feel so frighteningly real.

The dominant first act, "Fishnet and Secondary Smoke," featured eight Jesus-obsessed characters from modern rural America. They chatted directly with the audience and later on with each other about seemingly innocuous bits of rural American life. However, through the humor and banality of their words come sinister revelations of murder, hate crime, and mind-numbing denial of the toxicity of their actions.

Standout performances included Jessica Merritt as Amber, a clueless, trendy prom queen who imagines herself altruistic but cannot muster sympathy for a peer who was gang-raped. Amber later hooks up with zonked, preacher-in-training Derreck (Joshua Bresette), whose sole act of physical intimacy was with a dog. In a hilarious and scary performance, P.J. Marshall played Knife, the father of murderous "Goth" child Thorne (Jordan Dyck). Coupled with Thorne's mother Cookie (Noelle Teagno), the parents expose their inner mean-spiritedness and the duplicitous nature of the whole family unit. Sucked into this cesspool is Thorne's naive friend Curtis (Scott Stevens), who finds his escape by living in a car and following a calling in Christian rock 'n' roll. Finally, there is Polly (Alexandra Cremer), a cheerless widowed woman who finds new meaning in life through her devious and vengeful hairdresser Vance (Monte Zanca) and post-Menudo pop icon Ricky Martin.

The less-developed second act, entitled "The Christian Cat Club," set in rural Kentucky, features Doyle (Joseph Napoli) and Holden (Kevin White) as two insecure men packing up materials at Shane (Jeff Broitman)'s place. Doyle is a beefy video store manager who pines to be a star and lives in Shane's garage. Holden is a lanky, hard-drinking animal lover. Both work for effeminate and quirky design consultant Shane, who reveals to them that they are moving out. Both men plead to stay, using promises of sobriety, a gun, a rose, and a primate's heart to change Shane's mind.

Direction (Monte Zanca) was most powerful during the monologues, when there were moments of great humor, sadness, and uneasiness. Vignettes involving two or more characters tended to be two-dimensional. The simple multilevel set design by Mark Marcante suited well Myers's freeform material. The ever-shifting multicolored lighting design (Jon D. Andreadakis) enhanced the eeriness of the characters. Sound design was uncredited.
Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 Adam Cooper