nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
March 15, 2006
In today’s world of self-promoters, overachievers, hyperbolic moneymakers, and obsessive bodybuilders, Cyclone, a new, tightly-woven play by Ron Fitzgerald at the stunning Studio Dante, focuses on a cache of characters whose biggest collective achievement is getting through the day. Each has a take on life and to Fitzgerald’s credit, we care. He offers crisp dialog, precise timing, and dark humor. But, much of the strength of this two-act play (with intermission) rests in the setup and the slow reveal of the characters’ relationships. So I will try not to give too much away.
The story follows Mitch, an alienated alcoholic in his 20s, as he searches for a place to put the ashes of his recently deceased father. Mitch lives with his girlfriend, Erin, in a dilapidated mobile home in the middle of New Jersey’s nowhere. In his search for a resting place for both his father’s ashes and his own state of mind, Mitch runs into a variety of characters who aggravate his frustrations, making it impossible to resolve his dilemma.
All the characters have a skewed, if not narrow, outlook, but it is Mitch who simply can’t figure out how the day-to-day works. Hamish Linklater captures Mitch’s glossy-eyed drunken stupor and his sense of alienation. He displays quiet rage when his character tests boundaries, he delivers lines with youthful bitterness and wry humor, and shows how tight a system can be when all communication is shut down. What is not clear is his character’s journey. Linklater depicts the alienation so well that he gives no indication that his character cares a glimmer about anything, even his girlfriend, Erin. It is not evident in the beginning when he is being seduced by her or toward the end when he tells her he has packed their things to move to Alaska. These should be huge moments that anticipate change in him, but they are missed moments.
Marin Ireland instills Erin with modest purpose and small signs of strength. She tries whatever female wiles she has to make Mitch remember what they had when they first rode the roller coaster of the play's title. Her character is the hope of the play and little by little we learn that she alone expects more from life than she is getting. Although she appears to be a pushover at times, she never does what she does not want to do. Though she is not sure what she wants, she makes a choice that supports what she says to Mitch: your life can be whatever you want it to be. As it stands, Erin is the protagonist.
Lucas Papaelias beautifully encapsulates the many slow-witted clerks of the world into Bob, reminding us that small, frustrating moments can be very, very funny. Papaelias understands the awkward body language and the hesitant speech patterns of his character, and he is a pleasure to watch. The audience knows that Bob will never be more than a clerk, but even he, with all his limitations, has an ‘aha’ moment that signals that maybe, just maybe, he might.
In a bar scene, we meet Joe, a bartender of the old fashioned sort. Michael Cullen brings understandable weariness to his barkeep, escaping the stories of his clientele by watching game shows on television. Cullen artfully combines the feeling of being anesthetized by his customers’ small talk with disgust at what he sees on TV. He saves heated and hilarious admonishments for the guests of The Price is Right, ignoring those in front of him. This brings to fruition his one piece of philosophy—life is ugly.
Jeremy Davidson delivers all the cocky self-confidence needed for the know-it-all cop, Martin. He balances his interest in the roving ashes, in Erin, and in pinning various misdemeanors on Mitch like a man who knows what he is after. Two other characters round out the cast. Steve, a junkie, played by Matthew Stadelmann, reminds Erin what she is missing simply by paying attention to her; and Jim, played by James Hendricks, is a meddling neighbor who borrows beer and delights in the fact that his dog relieves himself on Mitch’s property.
While the script is filled with sad-sack characters, Fitzgerald has given them clever dialog, humor, and desperation. They add up to real people. What he has done best is hitch the relationship of one character to another in subtle and surprising ways. This keeps the plot moving forward at a clip.
There are other reasons to see this fine play, which is ably directed by Brian Mertes. Start with the set. It provides in perfect detail a fully-stocked convenience store, a well-stocked bar, and a deteriorating mobile home—all on a teeny stage without a curtain and without blackouts. Credit Victoria Imperioli with this fetching and inspirational feat. She is also producer, costume designer, and decorator and co-owner of Studio Dante. David Thomas designed the sound, which hits the right keys both in the music selected and in the sound effects. A scene at the Jersey shore might have been misconstrued had it not been for the oh so subtle waves lilting in the background. Tony Giovannetti designed the effective lighting.
Studio Dante itself is reason to go. Seating only 65 patrons, it is an ornate jewel box of a theater with wall coverings beginning inside the box office and continuing throughout the theater. Gold leaf is everywhere and the seats are replicas of Louis XVI side chairs. It is a visual delight.
There are many bright moments in this play. For the characters Erin and Mitch it is the memory of a ride on the Cyclone. For the audience, it is Ron Fitzgerald’s wit, sensibility, timing, and credible characters. Well done.