BRILLIANT DESPITE ITS DEADLY FLAW
by Andrew Turner
published December 12, 2008
now playing Off Broadway at Urban Stages
through January 3
Let me just start by saying that Rewrite, the musical comedy triple feature currently
playing at Urban Stages, is a great show. It’s well-directed, with tight musical direction and choreography and a minimalistic and
brilliant set design, the actors deliver, and the lyrics are clever and fun. That said, writer/composer Joe Iconis does his best to ruin
the production by making one of the worst mistakes a writer can make – he’s written a play about the process of writing a play.
Not only is this kind of post-modern musing irritatingly reflexive and overdone, it’s also irritatingly reflexive and overdone.
And irritatingly reflexive and overdone. And irritatingly reflexive and overdone. Get it? It’s tragic that a writer and composer of Joe
Iconic’s talent would resort to such masturbatory tactics. And yet, the overall production is of such high caliber, I find myself somewhat
forced to recommend it nonetheless.
The show is divided into three mini-musicals which are all loosely connected. The first, Nelson Rocks, is about a high school geek trying to muster up the courage to ask a pretty girl to prom.
Clichéd? Yes. Well done nonetheless? You betcha. The geek’s arch rival is a thuggish cheat with delusions of grandeur. My favorite part is when the pretty girl tells the thug that he smells like ball sweat and everyone knows
it, only they’re afraid to tell him because his dad died.
The second mini-musical, Miss Marzipan, concerns a lonely spinster preparing a dinner
for a former classmate who has since become a billionaire. His wife died in child birth and she’s desperately hoping to take her place.
Perhaps also not the most original story, but what Miss Marzipan has hidden in her closet is guaranteed to surprise and delight.
It’s in the third and last musical, The Process, that we are introduced to - drum roll,
please - writer/composer Joe Iconis. Actually, we are not introduced to him because he’s been on the stage the whole time playing piano. We
are introduced to his double, a slightly more overweight and pathetic version of the piano player, dressed in the exact same clothes. He’s
been trying to write a musical, but has to deal with the conflicting inner voices of his father, mother, and Mick Jagger. Every time he
tries to write something, they object, to the tune of “We’re not going to let you write that, Joe.” Either it’s too cliché, too schmaltzy,
or not emotional enough. It’s only when Joe stops listening to these voices that he is finally able to write a musical about a high school
geek, a lonely spinster, and a writer trying to write a play, which is also the play we happen to be watching.
The first two mini-musicals are so satisfying that this post-modern twist is completely unnecessary. Goofy geeks and psychotic
spinsters, it turns out, are much more interesting than struggling writers. It’s almost as if Iconis feels the urge to justify his clichés
by laying bare the process of writing, by saying, hey, it’s all I could do to get over the writer's block. Sadly this cheapens what is
otherwise a fantastic production.
By all means, Joe, keep writing, but when it comes to writing about writing, for the love of God, listen to your inner
andrewturner @ stageandcinema.com