review: Sex Good; Money Bad

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Sex Good; Money Bad (two one acts)

by Michael Weller
Directed by Tony Speciale and Drew Decorleto
Featuring Jeff Ward and Sam Tsoutsouvas
Broken Watch Theatre Company
Workshop Theater Mainstage, 312 West 36th Street 4th Floor
December 8, 2011 — December 18, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
December 10, 2011

(L-R) Michael Vitaly Sazonov, Halley Wegryn Gross, Sam Tsoutsouvas. In the evening’s 2nd one act “Rules for Write Play”. Image by Amanda Greenfield.

Manhattan theatre (as all theatre in any community) is a perpetual game of catch-up.  A production premiere will be peopled with performers and artistic staff who create a rich tapestry of experience and expertise — the playbill gives us a hint at who is behind what is before us.  A production in revival, especially if the book or song list is altered or a bit of stunt casting is involved, is inevitably analyzed and diagnosed along side prior incarnations — see the current energized reaction to the just-opened revival of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever for a sampler on this score.  And a theatre company has its own history of people, places, productions, dramas.  Within this history particular productions are selected and crafted.  This kind of production and staff history informs the current assembly of one acts offered from two very different stages of a single playwright’s career by Broken Watch Theatre Company.  This company we learn (in playbill, in press materials) was crafted out of passion in 2001, installed in a resident (rental) theatre in 2005 only to lose that location in 2008 and a return to production as “the new Broken Watch” in December 2011.  The program Sex Good; Money Bad is presented, we learn, to “honor longtime support and founder .. Michael Weller.”  As a testament to a theatre supporter, these may be fully realized versions of his 1967 and 2010 one acts, with some terrific performances. As theatre that resonates as single acts or together as an evening of theatre, these pieces are a challenge.

Act One is Now There’s Just the Three of Us (1967) with roommates — Perry (Michael Vitaly Sazonov) and Frank (Jeff Ward), 20-something virgins, rubber jokes, boner jokes, and a bit of successfully non-self-conscious farce in the form of a stranger Deke (Ethan James Duff) who insinuates himself into the roommate mix and his newly acquired sexual plaything Nancy (Halley Wegryn Gross) and our Inspector Clouseau-like Agent (Sam Tsoutsouvas). Despite Nancy’s proclamation at the play’s end that she now wants to fuck anything that moves and “die with a cock inside of me” leading to the boner situation, I partially grant this short piece some of the Cactus Flower “flower power” earnestness of the era in which both plays were crafted.  It was a time, and the playwright was young.

Act Two gives us work from the same playwright crafted 40-odd years later.  Rules for Write Play (So Not Getting Fingers Broken) (2010) is another piece of farce, but the archness overwhelms the whole.  Playwright graduate student Nick (Michael Vitaly Sazonov) is visited in his dorm room by an “enforcer” Akim (Sam Tsoutsouvas) of his poker-playing gambling debt and later by his classmate and occasional bedmate Megan (Halley Wegryn Gross).  The story of this play is self-conscious craft-of-playwriting articulated as plot points by the young man to the older (e.g. Nick to Akim: “Dialogue is just part of people behaving”) who feigns an interest in playwriting for reasons that are a slight plot twist.  While they’re waiting for his boss the loan shark to come, Akim the enforcer asks Nick to teach him about playwriting.  We’re the class, the nuances of structure and guideposts and story and plot are discussed and analyzed and developed.  This feels and plays like a classroom exercise and is painfully self-aggrandizing — our young student is a fan of his teacher Professor Weller.  Megan says to Akim at one point about Nick “You should hear him talk about Professor Weller.  The guy fucking walks on water.”  Oh dear, are we supposed to be laughing?

A number of sweet performances in the work of a patron and supporter with a penchant for farce currently on stage presented by Broken Watch Theatre Company.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 12, 2011)

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