Breaking ground

Don't Let Destiny Push You Around; Can't Cut My Head Off

John Montgomery Theatre Company
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

In the first play, by Suzanne Bachner, a brusque career woman (Felicia Scarangello), late to a crucial meeting, gets caught in traffic with a mouthy cab driver (Michael Medico) who, turning around, is the man of her dreams.

Medico as the cabby used his drop-dead looks artfully, constantly leavening his character's God's-gift-to-women arrogance with charm, humor, a sly twinkle in the eye, and the recurring flash of a million-dollar smile.

Scarangello's expressions and timing were expertly comic.

The ride was not without a few potholes, however. As the driver toyed with his passenger's affection, the cab (which the director--Colette Duvall--adroitly recreated) became more like a bedroom--as if the author forgot how things got started.

No one overspent on the simple set, the usable costumes, the superior sound, or the simple lighting projection (which served both plays) that added just the right amount of cheap theatricality to the evening. (Lights were by Patrick Hillan, and David Leidholdt was production coordinator.)

In the second part of the bill, Bruce A. Katlin's contribution elaborated six finely drawn characters (directed by Rick Mowat), including a unionized usher from hell who loathed actors and audiences without discrimination. Speaking to the audience, Katlin took his misanthrope to ludicrous extremes. Not content just to call the patrons he brought to their seats a bunch of spineless cows, he showed them how to moo.

With rubber face and agile body, Katlin captured a mania that all New Yorkers recognize in such characters as the biker who won't move an inch until the driver who bent his bike apologizes. Or the girl too young to realize her adored father regularly abused her. Or the toothpick-chewing bigot who thinks coffee shops, wetbacks, and doctors ruined this country. Or, in a serious contender for the funniest payoff ever done Off-Off-Broadway, the dim-witted jock, psyching himself up for a heavy date, revealing some frontal nudity in such an ingeniously hilarious way--so true to the fatuous character being portrayed--that the audience simply couldn't stop laughing.

Finally, in a surreal setting reminiscent of Samuel Beckett's dour comedies, the writer/actor rattled off, with supreme virtuosity, a blathering of the Me-Generation's transplanted spiritual techniques--from Tai-Chi to yoga to meditation to Rolfing to colonic irrigation. Brilliantly portraying the modern ersatz spiritualism expressed in the conflict between making a living and following one's bliss (not being able to accomplish either, of course), Katlin's disembodied head whirled faster and faster in frenzied confusion.

This brilliantly staged and truly inspired moment neither followed nor broke the rules of art. But the company, crackling with talent and professionalism, broke new ground with its well-executed, funny, wacky, extremely commercial, and simply wonderful work.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1997 Marshall Yaeger

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