nytheatre.com review by Charles Battersby
April 13, 2007
Manuscript was produced off-Broadway two seasons ago and, despite its minimal success in that incarnation, You Are Here Productions has brought it to off-off Broadway.
In Manuscript, three college students stumble across an unpublished manuscript by a famous, recently deceased novelist. Through an elaborate series of coincidences, they've lucked upon the only copy of what is guaranteed to be a goldmine for whoever claims to have written it. Two of these youngsters happen to be writers themselves; Liz (Christina Donlon) has penned a successful first novel, but is already late on a deadline for her second. David (Greg Cayea) is an unknown struggling talent, who is still looking for his big break. Chris (Duane Langley) isn't a writer, but finds himself caught between them; he's David's best friend, but has recently started dating Liz, who happens to be David's ex-girlfriend.
The audience soon learns that Liz's success comes from plagiarizing David's work, and that she's kept her romantic history with David a secret from her new boyfriend Chris. As the story develops, there is a lot of backstabbing, and plot twisting, but it still takes a very long time for things to get rolling; the titular manuscript doesn't even appear until the end of Act I.
The abundance of plot twists are, unfortunately, telegraphed well in advance, and most audience members are not going to be surprised as this tale of manipulation and revenge plays itself out. The true surprise here is that the show ends without one final paradigm shift, and resolves itself exactly how the audience expects, with a lackluster denouement.
With only three roles, and usually only two actors on stage at a time, the performances become especially vital. Cayea and Langley play their roles well enough, but Donlon fails to make Liz the cunning femme fatale that playwright Paul Grellong obviously intends her to be. The story already requires the audience to believe a pretty shaky tale of betrayal and vengeance, and this becomes even more difficult to buy into when the Machiavellian seductress is a little transparent.
Director Alex Lippard's staging is hamstrung by the fact that the play takes place entirely in one small room, and is produced in a rather small venue. The set by Michael V. Moore looks like an authentic writer's bachelor pad, accurately capturing the clutter and claustrophobia of small New York Apartment. Graham Kindred's lighting is quite effective, and employs a few nice tricks to simulate ambient street light coming through the window of David's apartment. There's a surprisingly large number of costume changes in the show, and costume designer Erin Elizabeth Murphy has the characters dressed to the nines in formalwear (Grellong's characters are off to high society events in several scenes).
While it's nice to see dramatic simplicity in the form of a play where three people in a room talk for an hour and a half, the show comes across as too simplistic and direct in its message and structure. You Are Here Productions' mission statement boldly proclaims that they are out to "begin a theatrical revolution," but Manuscript is not where that revolution will begin.