Present Tense Productions, the year-old company behind Bipolar Expeditions, proudly claims to be the only theatre company in New York founded and driven by playwrights, so it's ironic that half the show played like an episode of the TV sitcom Friends.
Like Friends, ``The Man With David's Face'' centers on nattily dressed young white Manhattanites who interpret their life through pop culture. The story would have fit right into the NBC lineup this spring, when it seemed every sitcom ended its season with a wedding-in-jeopardy plot. In ``David's Face,'' Roger and Roberta's wedding is nearly canceled when Roberta meets a man who looks like her ex-boyfriend the night before the wedding.
Cutesy incidents in ``David's Face'' such as a group lip-synch to Meat Loaf's ``Paradise by the Dashboard Light'' are straight out of a Hollywood script. Playwright Susannah Nolan evinces a gift of gab and is good with wisecracks and one-liners, but her dialogue is often contrived and she has to beware of sacrificing character development for the sake of a laugh. For example, one character's choice of Barry Manilow as the rock star who has been most influential in her life lent itself to jokes but was incongruous for a character who had been described as a punk-rock fan.
``The Man With David's Face'' featured good ensemble work by its cast, who had to be mimes as well as actors in this propless production. The show would have been enhanced if the set consisted of real scenery and furniture instead of the three small tables that variously represented the living room, kitchen and bathroom.
``A Month of Sundaes,'' the second part of Bipolar Expeditions, was not as derivative as ``David's Face,'' although it too dealt with a well-worn topic: the unresolved conflicts between parents and their adult children. The piece takes place during a son's visit to his schizophrenic mother in a mental hospital. In contrast to ``David's Face,'' the dialogue in ``A Month of Sundaes'' was decidedly esoteric--so much so that the story would have been more affecting had the arguments and emotions been expressed in plain English. Mother and son play-acted and quoted literature to each other, or spoke as if they were quoting literature.
As with any work about a gifted but tortured artist, ``A Month of Sundaes'' offered a tour-de-force role, and Peggy Cowles pulled it off nicely. Mentally unstable and smothering, the mother is a cross between Blanche Dubois and Amanda Wingfield--two parts Cowles played previously and which she undoubtedly borrowed from for this role. The real acting gem came from Mark Gorman as the son. Playing the second banana to a showcase role like the mother can be a thankless task, but Gorman distinguished his part with a powerful and emotionally varied performance. (Also featuring Michael Irwin, Marie Trusits, Scott Cain, Peter Heffernan, Laura Fois, Justin Kennedy, Sally Winters, Mary Denmead, and Mary Ann Volvonas. Sets, Robert Dew; costumes, Rosalind Lou and Amy Baird; lighting, David Alan Comstock; sound, Becca Blackwell.)
Copyright 1996 Adrienne Onofri
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