SPINNING OUT OF ARTISTIC CONTROL
by John Topping
published October 17, 2008
now playing Off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theater
through November 8
Spin is something akin to a college theater experiment.
Come up with a "zeitgeist theme" – in this case, spin (in the sense of twisting information into a dubious interpretation) – and commission five
playwrights to each write a short one-act play using this theme. Get a group of actors to play all of the parts, assign a couple of
directors, and, with relatively minimal effort from each participant: presto! – you've just put together a full evening of
Why don't "they" do this sort of thing more often? Because cobbling together a show from such disparate elements don't make
for a cohesive evening. And, boy, does the stageFARM’s Spin ever make itself a case in point. The short form is
admittedly a difficult task to carry out in theater (not counting, shall we say, full-length one-acts). The big exception is comedy.
And so it is perhaps no accident that the opening play, "America's Got Tragedy" by Gina Gionfriddo, more or less takes the form of
sketch comedy. From the moment that the host of the show steps out onto the stage, we are cued to laugh. This faux-reality show
is a weekly contest to see which of two people is more of a tragic figure. Today's contestants are an American soldier in the Iraq
war, who is game to play the game despite the fact that he died two weeks ago (no evidence of decomposing, thankfully), and none other than
our national non-treasure, Britney Spears.
The best play of the evening comes next with Elizabeth Meriwether's "90 Days." In a bedroom of a rehab facility, a recovering drug
addict talks to his girlfriend on a speakerphone on the eve of a visit from her and realizes that almost everything they say to each other
is a lie.
In "Nail Biter" by Judith Thompson, a government interrogator in Iraq tries to spin his own actions in an attempt to ease his
conscience. Although well-written as a piece of prose, it becomes mired as a piece of theater, primarily because it is a monologue
delivered in its entirety by an actor sitting in a chair, interrogating himself, as it were. A quartet of video images are projected
throughout to break up the monotony, but it's to no avail.
In Mark Schultz's whimsical "Fun," a male porn star relaxes on set with a guest actress who does specialty fetishes on film
(vomiting, for instance) but quite adamantly doesn't do sex. She becomes increasingly nervous as she tries to stave off his come-ons,
but eventually the plays wanders into incoherence.
And the play we've been waiting for closes the evening, super hot playwright Adam Rapp's "Tone Unknown." Let’s just say that I’m happy that I’ve seen an Adam Rapp play before this one, and I know – which you
would never guess here – that he is enormously talented.
Together, these plays gel into a generically incomprehensible mish mash that goes from merely disappointing to anger
inducing. Not anger spurred from the artistry of the content, but from the fact that we were
forced to sit through an evening of undigested art.
johntopping @ stageandcinema.com