Uneven half-dozen

Social Psychology (Program B)

Sage Theatre Company
Theatre 22
54 W. 22nd St.
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

The second installment of Sage Theatre's Social Psychology one-acts festival was overloaded with six plays and lopsided 90/40 running times (in minutes) pre- and post-intermission. Leading off the program was Action Casting, a droll Hollywood spoof- written by S. Sowers and Joe Loptruglio and directed by Gus Smythe-that could be called Being Wings Hauser. As in the John Malkovich homage, a real actor is the focal point for less-famous people's ambitions and anxieties. The performances were all excellent, with prize moments including Natasha Price's recitation of a monologue from Tootsie, in which she managed to both stay in character and imitate Dustin Hoffman, and Jeremy Schwartz's knowing portrayal of a felon who gets a break that actors can only dream of.

Action Casting proves that despite stereotyped characters-conniving ingenue, pill-popping executive, etc.-and the shadow of illustrious forebears from All About Eve to The Player, a showbiz satire will always be welcome if it has a funny gimmick and enough inside jokes. For the former, Action Casting featured between-scenes videotape of audition gaffes; for the latter, well, there's the Wings Hauser thing, plus references to chakras, celebrity criminals, and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. (Also featuring Trish Dunnick, Sam King, Jane Casserly and William Zipp).

Next up was Two Out of Three, in which a couple decides to stay together or break up based on the outcome of an arm-wrestling match. Megan Ethridge's deadpan interpretation cast doubts on her character's convictions, and Elias Stimac (who wrote the play) seemed effeminate for his role. In surer hands, it could be a decent relationship drama.

Calling Viola contained the acting highlight of the program: Reggan Holland (who also directed) narrating and performing in a parody of old-time melodrama. Holland showed off a commanding stage presence, great comic flair and beautiful articulation. She and costar A. Yamina Collins (the playwright) hammed their way through a hokey script with props-tape-on mustaches, water pistol for a weapon-to match. The deliberately overwrought theatrics flagged only because the play ran about seven minutes more than it needs to.

Little Tramp Falls and Lifters, the overlong playlets surrounding intermission, were nearly the death of Program B. They both had a leaden pace, an abrupt and ambiguous ending, and undistinguished acting. Melissa Simpson, for example, was a timid and soft-spoken dominatrix in The Little Tramp, while the three women in Lifters settled for telling rather than showing what they felt. Laura Jane Finn didn't convey her bitterness about an abusive childhood, nor did Susan Gordon-Clark the guilt she harbors about her parenting mistakes; heck, Finn and Katherine DeBoer didn't even bother to whisper while committing a burglary. Michael Roth's Little Tramp, a presumptive satire of Giuliani justice (directed by Ebony Joy), also had too many scene changes. Carol Holland's Lifters, directed by Daedra Kaehler, never came to a point and never explained its 1950s costumes. (Also featuring Andrea Furman, Julie Fisher, Melinda Kraeger and Matt Giraldi.)

The program regained some momentum with the finale, written by Suzanna Cramer and directed by Judith Stevens-Ly. Cleverly titled The Elephant Serenade, this menage à quatre is a yuppie version of the "I Remember It Well" number in Gigi. Two married couples reminisce about their meeting, courtships, and weddings, but nobody can agree on the details. This fun piece slowed down when it strayed from the Rashomon concept (i.e., the dialogue about a second honeymoon), and though the actors were adequate, a cast with savvier comic instincts would do greater justice to the script. (Featuring Nicole Hunter, Patrick McGrath, Melissa Wilder and Erik Barkhimer.)

Louis Lopardi, technical director and resident lighting designer, was the only techie credited. No major problems, although the blackouts were not black enough for impact-light from the booth prevented complete darkness onstage. A few effects in Action Casting were weak as well: the sound from a character's speakerphone coming from behind the audience, and a mock New York Post that was clearly a computer printout pasted over the newspaper. And please, Sage, be more careful with the program: half the cast of one play was not listed, neither was the director of another play, and at least three biographies were omitted.
Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri