Rebound & Gagged
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 17, 2005
Aaron Ginsburg's sweet new comedy Rebound & Gagged begins with its hero, the twentysomething Kyle, unkempt and in pajamas as though he hasn't been out of the house in days, teaching us about love. His pedagogical method is sock puppets: a dark patterned sock on his right hand representing himself, and a white athletic sock on his left hand representing Dana, the lady he has just broken up with after four years together. It's not pretty (though it's actually quite funny, and not just in a schadenfreudey way; Ginsburg knows how to find the humor in human foolishness).
So, yes, Rebound & Gagged is a recovery-from-love story for the post-Avenue Q age, puppets and all. Its resemblance to the popular musical includes a group of lovable characters who are clinging desperately to their immaturity, wishing their lives could be as carefree and simple as they were a few years ago, when they were safely behind the (metaphorical) walls of college. But unlike Princeton and Rod and their cohorts, everyone in Rebound & Gagged is resolutely and authentically human—and they recognize that for all their resistance to it, forward motion is the only kind possible in their lives. Some of them even seem to be taking some baby steps in that direction by the time the play winds down.
The journey is what's fun: Ginsburg, whose equally charming Straight Jacket & Tie played at the Vital Theatre Company a few years back, has an engaging bag of tricks to pull from as he chronicles the traumatic post-Dana days of Kyle and his closest buddies. For Kyle, they consist of gloomy days at home with the sock puppets alternating with occasional trips out, at first just to a bar with his best pal Jase, and then later on a succession of misbegotten dates (with women called only "What's Her Name" or "Not Dana").
For Jase, who has just returned to town after a failed relationship of his own, life is a pathetic and obsessive attempt to be young again. Jase, almost like a Warner Brothers cartoon character, pops in and out of Kyle's picture, taking him to bars, giving him terrible advice about women, and—in a high point of Ginsburg imagination—pretending to be a doctor, dressed in scrubs and carrying a toy stethoscope.
For Cooper, another college chum with whom Kyle now lives (platonically), it's an endless succession of weddings (always the bridesmaid, never the bride) where she continuously feels defensive about her apparent lack of success as an adult: she's a receptionist in an art gallery, even though her dream is to be a professional photographer. Cooper goes so far as to make fake business cards for herself and to claim that she's in a romantic relationship with Kyle.
Things turn around for all three of these people, as they will in life; what makes Rebound & Gagged so engaging is the fact that, through telling details that are thoughtful and believable despite their occasional outrageousness, we like and care about Kyle, Cooper, and Jase, and root for all three to find their way and grow up. We even like Fuckin' Harrick (their name for him, not mine), another friend from college who was a complete loser back then but has suddenly become all the things the others are hoping for now.
Stephen Sunderlin's staging of the play is brisk and smart, full of clever details like the accessorizing of the "Dana" sock puppet with a variety of found objects that belonged to the real Dana as the play (and Kyle's recovery) progresses. The play itself becomes a little unfocused in its second act, but Sunderlin's pacing keeps us on track even as Ginsburg meanders into a running time that's probably fifteen minutes too long.
Jeff Meacham, who was also in Straight Jacket & Tie, is dead-on as the directionless Jase, and winds up stealing a good many of the scenes he's in with his good-humored comic persona. Also impressive are Matt Hobby as a variety of male characters, notably Fuckin' Harrick, and Jason Gilbert, who is very appealing, especially at his most hangdog, as Kyle. Sarah Beth-Lee Williams has some good moments as all of Kyle's dates and several other women. Nia McGovern, however, doesn't give us much to hold on to in her perfunctory-seeming take on Cooper.
The Vital production is, as usual, of very high quality, especially Jessica Hooks's effective set design and Colleen Kesterson's costumes, which include a succession of credibly hideous bridesmaid dresses for Cooper.