nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 16, 2010
From the title to the tagline ("A dramedy about wanting to rise up—Superhero Style") to the Marvel Comics-style program credits ("The Stupendous Stacie Perlman," "The Incredible Ramon Sanchez...") to the complementary mini-comic that comes with your ticket to the curtain speech, Energy Man leads its audience to believe that it's a play riffing on superhero comic books. In truth, there's a riff or two on superhero comics, but all told, by my count, roughly six minutes of the play's 110-minute runtime deals with superhero comics.
But no matter. Energy Man isn't about superhero comics, or even about being a hero. It's about a deluded and corrupt business owner being forced to decide whether to continue living as a decent man, or to die a scumbag.
The man in question is Daniel. As the play opens, he's throwing a party in his lavish home for his workers. Almost none of his employees show. Then, his friend Zeke arrives with some troubling news: the company is broke. How broke are they? Well, their chief customer is Enron, and they're soon to be no more. And oh, yeah: they don't have enough assets to pay their employees. As in, at all.
So Daniel, who's been using the company as his personal checking account for years, needs to come up with money to pay his employees very, very soon, or else go to prison.
Overwhelmed and panicked, he overdoses on some pills a guest/former employee left for him (he knows not what they are or what they do) and enters a dream/coma/hell-like state where memories and fantasies blend together to form a sort of "This is Your Life" from hell.
Is he in hell, or limbo? Is he dreaming, or in a drug-induced coma? Either way, he's got stuff to sort out in his life, and he'd best sort it out fast, lest he either stay in this state or find himself just dreaming only to wake up prison-bound.
There are some good ideas and some touching moments in this play—particularly the scenes where Daniel first talks with his departed father and then with his semi-estranged son—but tonally and stylistically it's a bit muddled. I can't tell if Energy Man, as written by Ramon Sanchez and directed by Heather McAllister, has too many or too few bells and whistles. At any rate, some of the stylistic and surreal flourishes in the show—particularly the scant scenes that play like those out of a superhero comic book—seem to be tangential to the narrative rather than essential to it.
The actors in this ensemble, led by Rob Langeder as Daniel, offer good performances, ably playing multiple roles both realistic and archetypal. Stacie Perlman in particular is quite compelling as Daniel's guide to his own underworld.
I guess I felt as though the allusions to superhero comics needed to be ramped up considerably (that is, make Daniel's story completely parallel that of a supervillain-turned-superhero comic book tale) or excised entirely (there are elements of a religious parable here but the connection between Biblical tale and superhero origin story is never quite made). Ultimately, Energy Man has an interesting story and real heart at its core, but is currently stuck in Daniel's limbo state.