Warts and all

Red Roses

By Joe Maruzzo
Directed by Marcia Haufrecht
Common Basis Theatre, 750 8th Ave. Rm 500 (340-1112)
Equity showcase (closes May 21)
Review by Doug DeVita

There's no business like show business. On any level, there really is no business like it. Billed as "a quirky little offbeat love story with a twist," Joe Maruzzo's Red Roses is less a love story than an exposé of backstage life on the showcase circuit. A play billed as "a quirky little offbeat love story with a twist," being produced in a tiny wreck of a theatre in L.A. with the playwright and his ex-girlfriend playing the leads, is the conceit of this uneven comedy in which, strangely enough, Maruzzo also played the lead. (Notice a pattern emerging here?)

Actresses quitting two days before opening; dirty, crumbling theatres; marginal types misbehaving with the sense of entitlement of a star - Maruzzo has obviously observed life on this circuit, and he has gotten it all down with frightening accuracy. Unfortunately, lines of dialog that start with "Do you remember..." or "And then we..." laboriously impede the action as they attempt to set up the outrageous antics to follow. Things do pick up considerably in the much tighter and funnier second act, when everything is paid off with some of the most hilarious shenanigans since Michael Frayn's modern backstage classic Noises Off. And although Frayn said it with a sunnier attitude, Maruzzo shares a similar point of view: relationships in the theatre are incestuous, self-serving, and ultimately impossible; the participants never learn and are doomed to repeat their failures over and over again. These later, darker moments were nicely polished by director Marcia Haufrecht with a subtlety that was a welcome reversal from the interminably loud and rambling opening scenes. (Note to Mr. Maruzzo: be careful with the details. At one point, it is mentioned that the production in question is being given eight performances; later it is stated "we have 10 more performances." Do the math.)

The performances, led by Maruzzo's hysterical playwright/actor, were all over-the-top and grating in the first act; subtle, fresh and pointed in the second. To see Katherine Wallach's reactions to the shambles all around her while dressed in a purple-and-green spandex mermaid costume and horrific wig of long blond curls was to witness an actress in total command of a ridiculous situation; without saying a word, she said it all and was convulsively funny.

Wallach created the wonderful mermaid's costume; the rest of the production's design was uncredited and practically nonexistent. The very lack of a cohesive design scheme gave the show a truthful immediacy that no real sets, costumes, or lighting could possibly have delivered. In short, it worked.

If at times Maruzzo's take on life on the lunatic theatrical fringe reeks of theatre as therapy, when he does get going and unleashes his comic fury, anyone who has ever done anything remotely theatrical can relate. If only he could unleash without the endless explaining that is deemed necessary for the rest of the world to "get" it.

(Also featuring Robert Mobley, Etienne Navarre, and Michael Schoffel.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita