nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
October 9, 2008
Attending an evening of one-acts is usually a mixed bag affair; it's an unexpected bounty when you hit a night of one-acts where every piece succeeds. Gathering together two directors, a great ensemble of actors, and five talented playwrights who each live up to their acclaim—stageFARM's SPIN is one of those evenings where everything works. Focusing on the theme of the manipulation of information in various ways, SPIN gives us five-one acts that are original, thoughtful, provocative, and superbly executed.
Take for example the night's opener—Gina Gionfriddo's America's Got Tragedy—which pits a dead U.S. serviceman from Iraq against Britney Spears in a reality game show to determine who is the most tragic. Given its title and setup one might expect a pretty obvious dish of American cultural critique washed down with a heaping bowlful of snark, but Gionfriddo's piece goes in a different direction. America's Got Tragedy juxtaposes these two very different "celebrities" in surprising ways—the dead soldier is not simply a lionized and self-sacrificing hero, while Spears becomes more than just a vilified punching bag for our disgust with our society's priorities. Instead, America's Got Tragedy puts the audience right on the spot in some unexpected ways—challenging not only our own judgments but the parameters in which they are formed.
Adam Rapp's Tone Unknown—which closes the evening—is also on a familiar if not-undeserving target given the evening's theme: television news. Here journalist Victoria Houselight and her team are investigating—or perhaps concocting—a story on an elusive musical genius named Cerval Hyler whose music has siren-like effects on those who listen to it. Certainly Rapp delves into the valid but familiar inquiry as to the blurry line between reporting and spin, but there's nothing clichéd or predictable about how he goes about it. Cutting into the machinery that ravenously devours the authentic while trying to corrupt it at the same time, Tone Unknown finishes the evening in a gloriously bizarre meltdown of the lines between inspiration, manipulation, reporting, and art.
Sandwiched between these two are three more intimate pieces that investigate spin on a more personal level. Elizabeth Meriwether's 90 Days is a thoughtful meditation on the lies between a young man and woman, and how they spin who they are individually and as a couple both to each other and to themselves. Judith Thompson's Nail Biter also tackles "self spin"—here a Canadian security agent trying to justify his and his country's role as an accomplice in the way America has conducted its war on terror. The most chilling piece of the evening, however, deals with one person's clear and purposeful manipulation of another. Mark Schultz's superb one-act Fun navigates a disturbing play-by-play of one vulnerable person's chilling manipulation of an even more vulnerable person into a position where she will likely be exploited, used, and purposely harmed.
Directors Evan Cabnet and Alex Kilgore have divided up directing duties on these short pieces and their respective directorial hands are hard to distinguish—which is not a criticism but rather a tribute to clear and simple choices and a stylistic cohesiveness to the evening that is welcome but rare in compilations such as this one. Much of this can be attributed to the decision to use one very strong ensemble of actors for all five pieces, which allows supporting actors in one piece to strut their stuff in another. All five performers—Patch Darragh, Rebecca Henderson, Jesse Hooker, David Ross, and Dreama Walker—deliver excellent performances in each of their roles.
All in all, kudos are in order for artistic director Alex Kilgore, producer Carrie Shaltz, and stageFARM's entire team for envisioning a great concept to showcase these playwrights and performers, and taking the care and having the talent to do them justice. Let me add my voice to the spin of their publicity and wholeheartedly recommend it.