nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
August 17, 2012
There seems to be a fabled gay "Through the Looking Glass" New York City where everyone is white, dresses impeccably, has minorities do their set changes, wakes up in the morning after a drinking binge looking fabulous, has muscled baristas working at their local coffee shop (can they afford a gym membership on that salary?) and dates the siblings of famous people; I have never seen this happen in my New York (and I walk some pretty fancy circles) but it crops up far too often in the theater I attend. Scarlett Fever is my sixth such like production this year, and I hope it will be my last.
Scarlett Fever is not a play, it is a sitcom spec script, and unfortunately it is a spec script for the bygone, albeit Emmy-winning, Will and Grace—which is not to say that it's not funny, it is often hilarious in an old fashioned 1999-2001 sorta way. You know the pre-Facebook era where gay men on TV never actually had sex. I have seen all of these storylines before, and like a laugh track I chuckled and even managed to have a good time. The play is nothing but a trifle, but an enjoyable, whimsy trifle, nonetheless.
First of all, it references all the sitcom tropes. Gracie, is the girl who arrives to New York to live her dream; Joey is her gay best friend, an Elle Magazine employee, in love with the barista at his favorite coffee place (a nod to the Emmy-nominated episode "Coffee and Commitment" from Will and Grace); Natalia is the bitchy, fashionable and gloriously career-less insult queen. These dependable tailor-made characters are then mixed together into a storyline about Gracie's first adventure in New York, dating Scarlett's Johansson's brother.
I liked this play. It was pleasant. I smiled, laughed on cue, and enjoyed the performances. I think writer Josh Duboff has promise. He missed a few opportunities to do more with this setup, ignoring all the ways in which to use the sitcom formula to dig for deeper meaning. But he manages to create several appealing situations and closes them with just the right line. There are moments when you think he's going to dig below the surface, but then he finds something else in the surface that catches his fancy and all thoughts of depth are quickly forgotten.
This is his first play, and first plays are more often than not imitations of those things we will eventually end up mastering. Duboff has a Bernard Shaw wit, and I cannot wait to see what he writes once he steps away from the familiar.
Thank goodness for director Ashley Rodbro, who directs the play within an inch of its life; if Duboff is writing a 1999 NBC super-sized sitcom episode then Rodbro is directing it like it was the movie Speed. She's taken the right approach. Don't give the audience enough time to think!
Let me talk about something the production gets absolutely right, casting the simply awesome Alex Trow in the role of Gracie. She is the real deal, and I mean, she will be winning her own Emmy someday. Trow is the kind of actor you rarely ever come across. There are many good actors, there are actors who are great at their craft, but one in a million actors just have star-charisma. It oozes out of them. Trow's performance elevates the material, it also centers the rest of the cast; she is the Nina Arianda of the New York International Fringe Festival and every agent in New York should call her in for a meeting, because this girl, she's not going to be doing independent theatre for very long.
The rest of the cast ably holds their own. Charles Andrew Callaghan hits a surprising depth in his one major scene as Coffee Guy, Bill Coyne is charming as Eddie, Patrick Knighton gives one of the night's most grounded performances, something the play desperately needs, Jordy Lievers is excellent as Natalia, and Andy Sandberg as Joey hits some truly lovely notes though he walks the most familiar terrain.
The bitchy Natalia at one point castigates Joey for staying in on a Friday night and watching Hulu. What you get from Scarlett Fever is easily found on Hulu, in many languages. However, it's kind of nice to sit in a room full of people and laugh together, and for that I thank them, even if I barely remember what I was laughing about a few hours later.