Pot at the End of Your Elbow

By Robb Pruitt
Directed by Rick Zieff
Altered Stages
212 W. 29th St. (875-0346)
Non-union production (open-ended run)
Review by John Chatterton

Cleverest of all in this cross-over multimedia play/TV show is the premise that the new 550C VCR Braden Collins (Robb Pruitt) bought with his lottery winnings has such ultrarealistic playback that it brings people physically into the room. Alas, it's on the fritz, and the people start to get out of control.

There's Barbara, his ex-girlfriend (Miriam Serow), who uses her Wall Street talents to calculate the interest on a $200 loan she says he never paid back; Marty, the super (Billy Serow), usually as pleasant as a rabid pitbull but now over-eager to ingratiate himself (Serow also plays a former college roommate, come to blackmail Braden because of a mistaken belief that the latter is gay, and a New Jersey businessman called onstage to critique the evening); Mrs. Hansen down the hall, always on the lookout for a chance to rat out her neighbors (Joan Crowe, who also played a New Age rollerblader out to cash in on Braden's millions); and Park Borchert, whose dry performance as the VCR repairman was no doubt responsible for some the comic highlight of the show.

``Darn it, I'm getting playback residue again,'' says Collins when, after playing a tape, some prop remains in his apartment. The metaphor of a queasily unreal reality extends to his intermission trip to the store (viewed on the TV screen as he leaves his ``apartment,'' walks down an apartment-house hallway and reappears on 29th Street); to a character's observation that there isn't any bathroom, just a backstage area; and to the repairman's knocking on the TV screen to get the attention of characters frolicking inside on a long-ago Fire Island weekend -- before he walks behind the set and gets into the picture himself.

Fun and games with Pirandellian flashbacks make for the wittiest aspect of the show; less successful is the overall format, in which the character just wants to invite the audience in to see his new VCR, and the calculated baldness with which Pruitt steers the ``plot'' to its sentimental conclusion. This is a sentimental evening with a genial host, using the TV as a gimmick, not a play about a VCR that involves itself in its owner's tangled life. It would probably be more effective as a TV star vehicle (rewriting the back story to make the star more acceptable to the Legion of Decency). Or, ripping out much of the front story, as a science-fiction movie. Thar's gold in these hills, but it hasn't been mined quite yet.

The technical aspects of the TV (video sequences directed by Park Borchert) and the stroboscopic (literal) flashbacks worked wonderfully, along with a complete box set (Kevin Lock) and effective costumes. Despite the technical aspects' being a step ahead of the literary ones, the evening was enjoyable overall.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton

Return to Home Page