A Thrilling Manuscript


Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

Deception..Intrigue…Lust. These emotions run high in Paul Grellong’s, roller-coaster of a new play Manuscript. With every twist and turn, we are kept on the edge of our seats and once the final twist is revealed we gasp for air.”

Just Kidding Production tackles this new play with enthusiasm. A simple story about three “friends” meeting for a night of simple partying, turns helter-skelter when a manuscript is discovered without its author. True natures unravel and deception, lies, and manipulation take center stage as three “amigos” hash out their plans for the document. Best friends, David and Chris meet to introduce, Chris’ new girlfriend to David. When she, Elizabeth, arrives, we learn that both David and Elizabeth are writers. Chris desperately wants the three to get along Everything is going relatively well until Chris leaves to score some “party favors”. This is when things truly get interesting and for fear of divulging too much, we must stop here. But when the tumultuous nature of the evening plays out, no one is safe and we see a thrilling play brought to life.

David, played by Cameron Clarke, is totally invested and brings a sense of realism to his character that is palpable. His commitment to the story is compelling and his performance commendable. Clarke has great chemistry with his two fellow actors. Elizabeth, played by Kimberly Nordstrom is terrific in her turn. Nordstrom can play the fox and the victim well, showing that this actor has great emotional depth and range. Her scenes with Clarke are electric and the two play off each other well. However Chris, played by Matthew Hansen, does not fair as well. He seems to be working very hard on stage and, while that doesn’t sound like a bad thing, he over-acts which makes it appear as if he’s in a farce. When he relaxes, he does fine, but unfortunately he doesn’t relax enough. As a result, he seems buffoonish and like his character doesn’t belong in this play. This hurts the overall coherency of the piece, but luckily the story is strong enough that it survives,

The play to be an intriguing work, The audience is delighted by the surprises Grellong riddles his play with. He certainly keeps us guessing. There’s a bit of murkiness on the nature of Chris’ feelings for David. Again, Again for fear of giving away too much, it was unclear whether or not Chris wanted for a deeper relationship with David and to be more than just friends.

Joseph Napolitano’s set design works well and fits the space. There’s just enough material to give us a sense of place. Paige Fridell directs this production with clarity and understanding of the piece. She has a good grasp on the story and communicates it well. The overall “feel” of the production works, making the technical aspects seem non-existent, like they should. We are never directly aware of these elements, which means that there job was done with skill. Every good piece of theater requires masterful production values, that don’t draw too much attention to themselves, but let the actors shine. We know they’re present, but only when we consciously think about it.

That withstanding, Manuscript was thoroughly enjoyable. the relationships are complex and that’s always a good thing. This is an emotionally accessible piece of theater. The audience left happy that it got the chance to experience Grellong’s work and hope that we hear more from this exciting playwright in the future!

Manuscript played at Theater Row, 410 W 42nd St. No Intermission. Running time 100 minutes. This production closed on May 16, 2015

Evita Hits All the Right Notes

It’s tough to take on one of the best well known musicals out there. Thus, I was intrigued when I found out that the Gallery Players, a small theater company in Brooklyn, were tackling a blockbuster like Evita. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is a beast, it places unrelenting demands that require skilled singers, which is no small task for any company.

Evita, follows the life of Eva Peron. It shows her beginnings, from a poor family to her rise to fame. Still today, many Argentinians revere Eva. After sleeping her way to the top, Eva meets Juan Peron, a military leader who is on the verge of becoming President, by whatever means necessary. With Eva by his side, Juan is able to secure his rule, allowing Eva to become the First Lady. During her tenure, Eva accomplished a lot; most memorably aiding the impoverished through her foundation. However, Eva’s heath is on the decline, which limits what she can get done.

This musical needs a strong ensemble of actors to pull it off. Luckily, the Gallery Players found actors that were up to the challenge, Carman Napier plays Eva. Napier gains momentum as the play progresses and turns in a fine performance. In the first few scenes, she seems to have a little trouble finding the rhythm. She seems just a beat behind. But this is short-lived and by act two, Napier is full throttle and delivers consistently. Her voice is strong, and her acting even stronger. Dale Sampson plays Che, who narrates and haunts Eva throughout the play. Although he sounds a bit nasally at times, Sampson has a great vocal range that lends itself well to the role. His interpretation of Che is unique, which is always a plus. Equally effective are Jonathan Mesisca (Juan Peron) and Glen Llanes (Magaldi). These two can really sing and round out the cast well.

I found the choreography by Elyse Dave Hart to be interesting. The actors execute most of it well and it adds a nice polished feel to the show. Director, Mark Harborth makes great use of thee space, exploiting every inch available. I loved that this production, used actual footage of Eva Peron projected onto a blank newspaper cleverly held up by Sampson during “Rainbow Tour.” My only slight qualm was the microphone they used during “Don’t Cry for me Argentina.” It caused a weird reverberation that added extra sounds to Napier. It was like we heard he beautiful voice once and then we heard this echo shortly after, which takes the audience out of the moment. But like I said, it is a minor issue as the microphone is only used then.

My hat goes off to the wonderful chorus that rounded out the ensemble. With only five main characters, a lot of work falls on the ensemble to bring this piece to life. They rise to the occasion and literally never miss a beat. Simply put, Evita rarely hits a bad note and delivers high quality in the heart of Brooklyn!

Evita plays now though May 17th at The galeery Players, 199 14th St. www.galleryplayers.com Running time 2 hrs with one 15 minute intermission.

Dinner With the Boys is more like Take-out

Dinner With The Boys

Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan

What happens when The Sopranos meet The Odd Couple? It’s anyone’s guess. And there you have the premise with Dan Lauria’s dark comedy Dinner With the Boys. Two exiled hit men play house as they “cook up” plans for their futures. Unfortunately, the need for this story is not fully realized and the play suffers from a wayward, lackadaisical feel that limits its effectiveness. The antics get tedious and we want the plot to move on to something else. Sadly, it doesn’t and we grow a bit bored as it feels like a hamster spinning in its wheel instead of taking us on a journey.

Charlie and Dom have been banished to a quaint abode in New Jersey after botching up an assigned hit. We find out that Dom is quite the cook. But what makes his food so special is the main ingredient; the remains of their latest victims (think meat pies a la Sweeney Todd). As they eat their enemies away, an ominous visit from the “boss”, Big Anthony Jr, looms in the air. When Anthony arrives, he orders Charlie to kill his partner-in-crime, Don. When Charlie refuses, the meek chef, Dom, poisons Big Anthony Jr. and saves the duo from destruction.

The second act, picks up here, where much like the first act, an ominous visit throws a monkey wrench into things and murder is again afoot. The problem lies herein; both acts are constructed similarly and parallel each other too much. As a result we lose interest and focus as the act progresses. The most interesting quality, I don’t think is intended. There is a underlying sexual tension between the two men, We are never quite sure if the two are in love or just friends. Watching the actors wrestle with this was poignant, but it seemed as if they were unsure themselves of the extent that these two characters are involved. If sexual confusion and blurred lines were intended, its there, but it need further support and clarity.

Yet, it is not all doomsday here either. Richard Zavaglia plays the flamboyant, Dom, with such exuberance and genuineness that he is a delight to watch. Zavaglia delivers many of the plays funniest moments because he is so invested in his character. When his murderous side is exposed, we see the many layers of pain that Dom feels from being treated like an outcast from the more macho men. Dan Lauria, best known for his portrayal of the Dad on The Wonder Years, is fine as Charlie. He has some great moments on stage, but his confusion over his feelings for Dom read like an actor being uncomfortable, rather than a character trying to figure out who he is. Ray Abruzzo plays Big Anthony Jr. as your typical everyday mob boss. Abruzzo seems stuck on one note for much of his performance, and although that note gets the job done, I couldn’t help but wish for more from him.

The Set, designed by Jessica Parks is exquisite. Her attention to detail shines through and serves the play well. I hope playwright, Lauria will continue to develop Dinner With the Boys. Hopefully, he will search for his own desire to tell this story and convey that in the script. Where do you want to take us? Right now, I’m not so sure.

Dinner With The Boys plays at the Acorn Theater, Theater Row 410 W 42nd St. http://dinnerwiththeboysplay.com