It's always good to see growth in the Off-Off-Broadway community, and it's hard not to admire the enthusiasm spewing from the Distilled Spirits Theatre. In its first month of operations, the company is producing five shows and holding weekly readings. Yet one might also suspect that when a company is formed by a playwright and her significant other, perhaps the critical process is neglected. At least that is the impression left by Crunching Numbers, a compilation of one-acts written by Distilled Spirits co-founder Lynn Marie Macy.
All three plays in Crunching Numbers cry out for rewriting, tweaking, workshopping. They all have good ideas at the core, but they ramble and veer into cliches or just plain silliness. And the only thing these "related" pieces have in common is a New York City setting.
First up was Once in a Blue Moon, part film noir spoof, part baby boomer nostalgia (theme songs and characters from old TV shows are invoked repeatedly), and part Brooklyn stereotype (people with surnames like Marelli and Liebowitz talkin' like dis). It went on too long, got improbably sentimental at the end, and contained some ill-conceived running gags (one character was continually grooming herself-with lipstick, deodorant, portable fan, etc.). In addition, the play's self-consciousness about what it is satirizing is heavy-handed: for instance, one character announces during a monologue that she is making a "direct audience address."
Crunching Numbers' middle piece, Twice Blessed, is a cliched and reprehensibly reactionary tale of two best friends who went in separate directions after college. One married her college sweetheart, is pregnant with her fourth child, and spends her days canning tomatoes and cleaning up toys in Wisconsin. The other is a Pepto Bismol-guzzling, cell phone-toting ad executive in Manhattan who hasn't had a date in two years. Haven't we gotten past the notion that these are the only two options for women-neither of which provides any personal or sexual fulfillment? In the course of a late-night telephone conversation between the women, Macy unleashes every offensive stereotype about "career gals" as well as homemakers, the Midwest and New York City. Worst of all, the conclusion of the play comes down strongly on the side of, essentially, being barefoot and pregnant.
In the closer, The Thrice Three Muses, an unemployed actor-having experimented unsuccessfully with all the major religions-invents his own: Bardism. There has got to be a better way to honor Shakespeare, or to poke fun at the trendy obsession with spirituality, than Macy manages with this meandering piece. Jeffrey Eiche overdid it in the central role, imitating Kelsey "Frasier" Grammer imitating a Shakespearean ham. The supporting characters are poorly developed, and the focus lurches between comical (Charlie's crisis of faith) and poignant (his relationship with his wife).
Like Distilled Spirits' busy performance schedule, Crunching Numbers demonstrated tremendous ambition by the company. Praise was in order for the detailed sets (Lighting Elves Inc. is credited with "production design") and the hard-working cast. Jennifer Lynn Michael, Annalisa Hill, Karen Eterovich, and Gabrielle Gibbs stood out as appealing talents.
(Also featuring Eric Morace, Stephen Federbusch, Jennifer Lynne Marcal, Janet E. Anderson, John Yearley and Drew Zechman.)
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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri