nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
July 12, 2006
On one of the muggiest nights of this young summer, it seemed ironic to voluntarily trek downtown to sit in a venue without the joys of air conditioning. Thankfully, the festival known as Ice Factory chose an extraordinarily cool production, Aruba, to reward theatergoers who braved the humidity, as People Can Run's UK transfer is a comic delight, and definitely worth a visit.
Aruba consists of three distinct vignettes that each feature a twenty or thirtysomething young urbanite involved in some type of quarter-life crisis. Though the dialogue (credited to Rob Evans) can be too breezy for its own good at times, the dark-sounding subject matter keeps the piece grounded in enough reality that it never feels forced. In fact, it's the seamless blend of humor and the dark subject matter that makes this show appealing to a downtown crowd, and is one of the show's major assets. Above all else, Aruba is exceedingly clever, charming, a great night out, and performed by an incredibly gifted trio of actors.
Aruba begins with Mark (Ben Lewis), an overconfident advertising man who has a near-death experience while walking through the streets of London that negatively impacts his ability to be creative. His nervous breakdown results in an enforced 'vacation' that allows his mind to drift to the fantasy world of Aruba, where inspiration strikes for his company's big sneaker campaign. Watching Mark struggle to not use advertising clichés to describe simple things (e.g., he can't say "teeth" but rather "pearly whites") is particularly amusing. He invents such a ridiculous catch phrase for the sneakers with his newfound clarity that of course it catches on like wildfire.
The piece quickly segues rather abruptly into the story of Darren (Kieran Fay), an Australian personal trainer who's lost his ex-girlfriend/boss Tina, his physical stamina, and his edge at age 35. When he's turned down at the sneaker store because he's too old to buy them, he goes on a bit of a workout bender to feel younger. Naturally his overzealous behavior backfires, and sends Tina into the arms of another trainer. As Darren watches helplessly, Tina and his rival 'work out' in her office, and perform possibly the funniest sex scene of the year (certainly the most amusing with an Aussie accent). This causes Darren to overdo it at the bar at the company party, and in his unconscious drunken state drifts in his mind to…you guessed it, Aruba.
A final segue brings us to the story of Nikki Parsley (Sophie Fletcher), who is essentially the Ms. Cellophane of London. Both male actors get to enjoy hilarious turns as her female co-workers at a travel agency, while Nikki, as always, fades into the backdrop. I will leave the jaw-dropping conclusion to Aruba a secret, but I will say that the Tarantino-esque ending ties all three sequences together well, and not in a far-fetched way. It surprises the audience just enough while allowing them to connect their own dots—it's a very fitting finale.
Because of the show's structure, each actor is allowed to shine in both a lead and a supporting role within the same piece. Lewis, Fletcher, and Fay all get an equal opportunity to strut their comedic and dramatic muscles with a variety of characters within the hour and fifteen minute run time. What's more, their versatile physicality allows them to change scenes with their bodies, rather than with any kind of backdrop or technical wizardry. Just lighting shifts and the human form—this movement-based direction can only work seamlessly with truly gifted performers, and all three function together as a well-oiled machine to move the story forward.
Of particular delight is the work done by Fletcher—in the first two stories she plays comedic foils such as the sexy gym manager Tina, the uptight ad agency exec, a British hood rat in a Foot Locker-type store, et al. And, truly showing off her acting chops, she occupies the emotional center of Aruba with her heart-tugging performance as Nikki. Each of us, at one point or another, has felt the part of a shrinking violet, and Fletcher gives a touching portrayal of a young woman who, try as she might, can't really connect emotionally with other people or even herself.
Dressed in appropriately brightly colored costumes, the cast of Aruba is visually arresting from the moment the lights go up. The sound/music design by Dave Carey is the perfect playlist to accompany the piece. Speaking of the music, I'd love to know if the ukulele music was by New York's own dazzling group The Moonlighters, but the program leaves this information out. Something else vital that the program omits is who directed the piece. Was it People Can Run, the actors, Rob Evans…inquiring minds want to know who to thank for a great production. Oh well, Aruba will have to settle for having too short a run in New York and plaudits all around.