Peep Show marks writer/director Jeff Grand as an artist of depth and unsentimentalized humanity. His play offers a perceptive view of three lives in stasis. Lou, an amateur stand-up comic, lives with his life-long best friend Billy, an emotionally disturbed veteran. When Billy is drawn to Annabelle, a stripper working the booths in a Times Square sex shop, the bond that grows between them threatens to unearth a secret long shared by him and Lou, and Lou doesn't just let this happen.
Grand's script grows in interest as levels of emotional film are peeled away from the characters. He wisely avoids the "Oh what a horrible life I'm in!" cliches that usually saddle plays dealing with women in the sex business. These women have guts, but the pathetic nature of much of what surrounds them is not lost on them. (Annabelle tells of one customer who has to pretend he's Hitler in order to get himself off.) Grand shows restraint in areas where he could have succumbed to the lurid. Those who went to Peep Show expecting a cheap rise and titillation almost certainly left disappointed. And the emotional desperation he so vividly realizes among the characters is wedded to a tough-minded concern for them. Indeed, he accomplishes the considerable dramatic feat of having his vision grow both darker AND more compassionate at the same time.
The three principals all acquitted themselves very well. As Billy, the lantern-jawed Chance Kelly was something of a revelation. He was able to-show the raw ends of his spiritual tethers with a number of sotto voce mannerisms while never belying his character's dangerous side. Esmé Howard's Annabelle was beautifully observed, with highly convincing flashes of both anguish and formidable soul. And as Lou, Tom Vaught often wonderfully essayed an internal moment of anxiety or desire while physicalizing its opposite in a gesture of cockiness or cynicism. Unfortunately, Rob Evans as the comedy club owner, Victoria Richmond as one of Lou's one-night stands, and Eve Melendez as a co-worker of Annabelle's were all quite weak as they indicated and "showed" too much.
There are other flaws, as well. When the secret shared by Billy and Lou is revealed, Grand stumbles. It doesn't exactly come out of nowhere, but it doesn't feel like it's been there beneath the script's textual surface all along. And his dialogue clinks now and then, as when Lou tells Annabelle, "Your body is like a road map to places where life once was."
While Caitlin Joy's costumes were astutely chosen, Philip Cassara's sets were rather awkward, with a huge white screen stealing focus in the men's room scenes. David Comstock's lighting seemed a touch clumsy, but it might have been the botched cues the night of the performance.
Grand is a genuine talent, though, as are the three leads. (Also featuring Eve Austin, Russell Steinberg; art director, Greg Daly; sound designer, Glen Racine; stage manager, Michela O'Brien.)
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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