Back to the drawing board

Phoebe Makes the News

By Terri Campion
Directed by Lynne M. Boone
Waterfront Ensemble
Flatiron Playhouse
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

For what amounts to a light romantic comedy, Phoebe's main fault is that it is too long. Before she gets her man (and her best friend gets hers too), the protagonist, Francine, goes through a succession of misfits and also-rans, including a red herring who looks like the Real Thing. The pacing of this succession of losers and almost-winner doesn't exactly owe a debt to farce.

The second biggest fault is Francine (Leecia Manning). She's such a nice girl. She puts in long hours at the sketchpad working on a cartoon that she hopes to sell to the newspapers - hence the title - while scratching her living as an independent contractor. (That her job consists of having phone sex is almost incidental.) She's almost too nice to generate any conflict.

But there the complaints end. Where Francine veers dangerously close to wimphood, her friends and would-be lovers are a sparkling array of eccentrics. There's Sandy (Romi Dias), all red-and-yellow and Brooklyn attitude, hostess at Phoebe's favorite restaurant. There's Jay the gangster (Jeff Baskin), who almost makes it in the love sweepstakes but mysteriously disappears from the story. (Mr. Baskin also reappeared as Sandy's new boyfriend Raymond.) And there are blind dates Barry, Gene, Mason, and Mark, all played in wildly different veins by Bruce Barton, who won the acting honors for the evening on variety alone.

Director Lynne M. Boone did a fine job of keeping the pace going against odds. The play comprises 15 scenes; but instead of having the play die 14 deaths (well, 13 plus intermission), the scene changes were all motivated by the actors as little dances or sketches, in character.

The uncredited costumes showed attention had been paid to character. The uncomplicated set design included a screen, on which were projected Phoebe cartoons that turned Francine's alter-ego and fantasy playmate into another character, who commented (in the artless fashion of cute, "family" cartoons) on the action.

Francine's search for love in all the wrong places isn't enough to sustain the play, which needs tightening and focusing. But the sparks that fly show that Terri Campion is working at the right furnace; at times, the sparks landed among this excellent cast and caught fire.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1999 John Chatterton