nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 10, 2013
A scene from RUBBLE
What is FringNYC for if not to try out new material? That’s what Mike Reiss, veteran writer for the animated TV smash The Simpsons, seems to be doing with RUBBLE, a fast-paced play that draws on all sorts of comedy – physical, farce, burlesque, screwball, self-deprecating and more – to deliver consistently funny lines. And he does it with a first-rate cast. Taking no chances, Reiss lured an all-star creative team to support this production, undoubtedly preparing for a wider audience.
In the play, Alvin, a middle-aged comedy writer, who had early success in television but now desperately needs work, pitches a new idea to Diane, a beautiful, but humorless network exec in Los Angeles. Diane contemplates the idea of using recognizable people who can’t act. Alvin rebuffs her suggestion, and she rejects his pitch. An earthquake ensues. Diane takes sanctuary beneath her desk, leaving Alvin in the open to be buried – save his head and arms - by a huge mound of rubble. He remains in the rubble until his rescue – nearly the rest of the play. As in any community, L.A. has its hierarchy. And, unfortunately for Alvin (Diane is presumed dead), he must wait until Brad Pitt and Jim Belushi are rescued before a guard digs him out. During the wait, Alvin sees his life pass before him in the form of his ex-wife, Brie, three variations of his father, Jesus, Mary, his mother, and Sigmund Freud. In a running gag, he also calls his aging agent, Lee, who is vacationing in Hawaii with a gaggle of grandchildren. The repartee between Alvin and these characters is fast and funny, interrupted on occasion by Jerome, an off the wall song and dance man.
Bruce Vilanch stars as Alvin. Vilanch, best known as head writer for and celebrity participant on TV’s Hollywood Squares, uses his size to fine comic effect, creating an out-sized schlemiel in Alvin. His timing is expert. Amy Wilson more than fits the bill as ‘straight-man’ in her role as Diane. In her fitted, red sheath and matching patent leather stilettos, she serves as Vilanch’s counterpoint – young, sexy and powerful. She doubles as other characters, and is particularly spirited in her unforgiving Mary. Rubble moves quickly, so it is hard to imagine anyone picking up the pace, but Jason Jacoby does it in his wacky persona of Jerome, a vaudeville character who nearly throws himself onstage unpredictably and unannounced, singing bawdy songs set to familiar tunes as he dances frenetically. He is nothing short of hilarious – comic relief in a comedy. The rest of the cast is also very good. Jerry Adler plays Lee, the agent; Bryan McElroy is the Professor and others; and Jeffrey Arnold Wolf doubles as a Gruff Guy and Alvin’s fathers.
The point of RUBBLE is laughter. And there is no shortage of that. At times, punch-lines drown under the wave of the previous line. Reiss knows what’s funny. He takes the mundane, adds the absurd, and makes you laugh. He also knows when to take chances. And it’s not with his creative team. He assembled fine creative talent for this FringeNYC production. James Valletti is meticulous in his direction. Matthew Pachtman’s costumes are spot on. Natalie J. Pecora created a minimal, yet appropriate, set. Her eye for props is terrific - all adding to the humor. Kudos for lighting and sound go to Sean Beach and Leon Rothenberg, respectively. Rick Caroto’s hair and wig design demand high-fives. And, Christopher Howatt deserves praise as co-composer (no mention in the program of his collaborator) and for music direction.
They all bring enough experience to light up a black box theater. Plot in RUBBLE is slight. It’s there to serve the humor. Running gags dot the roughly hour and a half performance. Still, an hour and a half of laughter feels good, and is worth the price of admission.