The Onion Lovers
nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
August 11, 2006
There are lots of reasons to go see The Onion Lovers, but the main reason is Kellie Arens, the spirited actress who gives a fresh, vital, charming, and truly hilarious performance in this not-great, but still very amusing, play.
Greg, played by Mike O'Gorman, sits alone in a café, when Audrey, played by the person I was just raving about, walks in and demands his (and our) attention. Audrey claims that she doesn't want to eat alone, so she makes Greg spend time with her as she spins a shaggy-dog story that you wouldn't believe even if you were born just before lunch.
Do onions really make Audrey gag? Did her parents really both commit suicide when her brother came out of the closet (over the phone)? Is she really late for an audition? Is she a feature film actress, or is she in porn? Greg claims that he doesn't care. He just wants to get back to work (he teaches sociology). But this kook in the orange summer dress just won't let him go.
Audrey's nuttiness brings out the truth of Greg's life that he had buried for years out of fear and disappointment. (He really wants to be a Folk Rock Icon.) And that, I guess is the point. Robert J. Bonocore's play is in the tradition of stories where a really uptight guy learns to relax a little when he meets someone who isn't afraid to be crazy. I must admit that I find this whole Uptight-Meets-Nutjob conceit a little old. The problem, too often, is that uptight characters can be really boring.
Mike O'Gorman is a strong comic actor with impressive musical talent, too (I'm not giving anything away by revealing that Greg does have a little Folk Rock Icon moment), but his character is not in any way compelling. Although Greg can't deny his attraction to Audrey (when he refuses to propose to her upon request, she demands to know if he wants to see her naked, which he, of course, can not deny) but he spends most of the play trying to free himself from her company, as if this kook were merely a nuisance. Sorry, I don't buy it. There are no character-based reversals here, just Audrey in varying states of lunacy, and Greg in a monotone of dull. There's no give-and-take, as with the best two-character plays. There's no real dance. Each character really only has one step.
Maybe I'm being too cranky. As I said at the top, there's lots of reasons to see The Onion Lovers. The audience definitely had fun—lots of laughs for an hour-long show. J. Julian Christopher directs with fluidity, keeping this romp romp-y enough. And Bonocore is very good with dialogue and has a flair for the absurd. But, as I said, there's one element here that's out of the ordinary: the lead actress. What impressed me so about Kellie Arens is that she never downplays the ridiculousness of her character, she moves towards the grain of the bizarre while imbuing her role with a believability and naturalness that I would never have expected. I think that we'll still be hearing from Kellie Arens after this year's FringeNYC Festival. And that's no shaggy-dog story.