Lip service

The Service Project

The Drilling Company
Equity showcase (closed)
78th Street Theatre Lab
Review by Adrienne Onofri

The Service Project was a compilation of new short plays that explore what it means to serve or be in service. Although the Drilling Company made it clear that September 11 provided the inspiration, but not necessarily the subject matter, for The Service Project, the event is mentioned in the program note and about half-a-dozen times in the press release. But only one of the 10 plays in The Service Project involved people serving in response to the tragedy (one other piece mentions it at the end). September 11 is too sensitive a topic, and the wounds too fresh, for it to be bandied about to promote something that deals with it only nominally.

Furthermore, though the plays feature characters who work in some sort of service -- like soldiers, waiters, and prostitutes -- the idea of serving is secondary to a more dominant theme in many of them: Service Order satirizes office politics; The Regular is about loneliness; Kuwait focuses on the bond that can form between adversaries. In the comic pieces, the broad humor overwhelms any message: with its unabashed buffoonery and caricatured roles, La Mouche plays like a Saturday Night Live skit; Satisfaction Guaranteed's jokes about labyrinthine automated phone systems are hardly novel.

As for the plays that do take place in the 9/11 aftermath, Down Here contained the emotional highlight of the evening -- an affectingly written, gently played interaction between two Ground Zero volunteers (Lenore Pemberton, Dan Teachout). That scene would have sufficed, but the play also revolved around three other people whose lives were changed by the disaster. Their storylines weren't that interesting and had no catharsis. In addition, some scenes in Down Here contradicted the spirit of service that permeated the city after September 11: Pemberton's character is at first indignant at being asked to volunteer two hours to give massages to rescue workers, while the volunteer organizer played by Ali Cassandra Webster does it for the publicity and accolades.

The other play that touched on September 11 was McIntyre's, a rambling monologue reflecting a worldview and vocabulary that seemed too sophisticated for its young barmaid character. Stacy Wallace's flat delivery was an exception to the generally engaging performances by The Service Project's diverse cast. Noteworthy efforts included the physical comedy of Scott Baker and Sally Mae Dunn in The Tram; Tom Demenkoff and Erik Van Wyck's perverse interplay in Mutant Sex Party; and the escalating hostilities between Bradford Olson, Rob A. Wilson and Carol Halstead in Service Order.

The Service Project was sound technically, as the production required some unusual props (a hand truck, a portable massage chair) and a variety of professional and casual attire. But the program needed to be shorter -- it ran two hours, 40 minutes -- and more focused to better serve its theme.

(Set, Maruti Evans; lighting, Miriam Crowe; sound, Christopher Webb, Ryan Walsh, Nina Jones.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2002 Adrienne Onofri