The emperor gets dressed


By Patrick Gabridge
Directed by Frank Calo
Presented by the Sage Theatre Co.
529 West 42nd Street (929-3423; call for schedule)
Non-union production (closes June 10)
Review by Doug DeVita

Merrily skewering scientific research, marketing gurus and their questionable practices, the media and their hold on the public's imagination, and the unravelling fabric of American moral fiber, Patrick Gabridge's Blinders was a delightfully wicked satire that raised some very serious questions in a very funny manner.

A modern take on Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes, Blinders began as a scientist announces her discovery of two men, Chris and Alex, who are exactly alike although they are not twins. The resulting media circus, and one reporter's desperate struggle to expose the discovery as a hoax at any cost, served as the backdrop for hilarious, caustic insights on human frailty and hunger for celebrity status. Gabridge and director Frank Calo created a zany, no-holds barred fun house by holding a distorted mirror up to a distorted subject, exposing the current sorry state of the American dream with an uncompromising, unapologetic glee. Not everything worked (there were some loose ends that were not satisfactorily tied up and a few timing misfires in Calo's otherwise witty, lightning-fast direction), but the free-flowing wealth of ideas and the winning way they were presented in more than made up for any minor shortcomings. Seen at the first performance, whatever kinks were present should work themselves out during the run.

As Karen Sayer, the reporter with the courage to stand by her convictions, Nicole Verbois communicated Karen's mounting frustration with a clear, concise performance that negotiated every twist and turn with a wry, self-assured elegance. Michael E. Kelber invested Stack, an opportunistic marketing whiz kid, with appropriately smarmy charm, while Paul Witte and Phillip Stafford, as Chris and Alex, gave inspired, symbiotic performances, every movement, response, and smile polished to a practiced perfection.

Playing a variety of sharply defined characters, Vance Clemente, Tracy Friedman, Michelle McKiernan, Jami O'Brien, Jeremy Shepard, and Celeste Wescott formed an incredibly strong ensemble, flinging themselves whole-heartedly into the merriment with a contagious sense of fun and silliness.

The absolutely bare bones production (set, costumes, lighting, and sound all uncredited) served as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, without the distraction of physical trappings, the quality of the text, direction, and performances became all the more apparent, but by the same token, with writing, direction, and performances as high-caliber as this, a highly polished physical production could have served as the final frosting on an already substantial piece of cake. The question is academic, for with any luck, this production of Blinders was a blueprint for a long, successful life to come.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 0
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita