nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 9, 2005
The funniest new holiday comedy in town right now is—of all places—at the tail end of a bill of short plays called Revenge 2. Entitled Blue Christmas, this giddy romp by Scott Baker is about a department store Santa with a secret, one that I will not give away except to tell you that it's tied in with the cockeyed notion that faking your own death is the best revenge of all. Baker's off-kilter, joyous yuletide tale is populated with an outrageous gay elf named Mistletoe, played to perfection by Mike Dressel; a caustic but grounded store employee named Irene (Alyssa Simon at her deadpan best); a harried store manager (Bill Green); a very pregnant customer who may or not be having Santa's baby (Billie Davis); and, as the unlikeliest of Santas, the delightful Stephen Bittrich. I laughed out loud more times than I could count at Baker's playful jokes.
It's a merry finish to a program that's as eclectic and varied as anything on stage in NYC right now. True to form, TheDrillingCompaNY have once again enlisted eight playwrights to create new work on a single theme, in this case the eponymous notion of revenge. (A previous bill on the same subject played earlier this season; read about it here.) The items here range from Kate McCamy's exploration of a law suit gone awry, The Deal, in which a documentary filmmaker and his cameraman sue each other in an attempt to end their squabbling; to Tom Strelich's intriguing Still Life #2, which depicts (I think) God's awesome revenge on a blasphemous artist; to Katharine Clark Gray's dark satire Served Cold, which imagines a company whose business is to send out nasty items (e.g., cockroaches, dead flowers, feces from a variety of animals) as "gifts" to ex-friends and/or enemies of customers (if this company doesn't already exist in real life, somebody is going to seize upon it now; let's hope Ms. Gray gets the royalty she deserves for dreaming it up!).
Stephen Bittrich (the same fellow who wears the Santa suit in Blue Christmas) has written Bee for this collection; it's a fascinating, futuristic thriller about a man who has been summoned for interrogation but doesn't seem to know why. Bittrich plumbs deeply into the idea of revenge, comparing and contrasting it with instinct: does a bee, when it stings, exact revenge or merely fulfill pre-programmed survival mechanisms? Does a murderous, scorned lover? Bee is acted with splendid precision by Karen Tsen Lee and Ron Dreyer (as the interrogator and the interrogated, respectively) under Dan Teachout's direction.
Thor's Hammer, by Nicholas Gray, takes place in the warden's office of a prison, where an inmate has been brought in for questioning regarding the recent murder of his cellmate. It turns out to be a crime of passion—but the reason that the prisoner has taken revenge is a neat surprise. Don Carter is spookily convincing as the prisoner; Bill Homan plays the warden.
The two most powerful plays on the bill are also the darkest. P. Seth Bauer's Stop the Lawns is a disturbing slice of life, set in a basement where three New England kids who are bored with mowing lawns are hanging out. The way they decide to fill their time leads them down a most unexpected path; this play packs a real wallop, especially as we understand that it's the very emptiness of these young men's existence that seems to be the source of their explosive malaise. Gabriele Forster directs Tobias Segal, Alessandro Colla, and Michael Schreiber to stunningly effective performances in this jolting and taut drama.
Medea Unharnessed, by Molly Rice, revisits perhaps the most famous revenge story of all time. Structured meticuloously, the play gives us Medea and Jason narrating bits of their history in spare, poetic, but very accessible language. Catchwords in Jason's version, especially (like "witch" and "barbarian"), help us understand Medea's wrath in a way that more traditional renderings of Euripides seldom achieve: condensing the story to its starkest elements yields a savage potency. Kara-Lynn Vaenie is the director, with Heather Anderson and John Giampetro impressive as the legendary lovers-turned-enemies.
Revenge 2 sports a very effective unit set by Rebecca Lord that adapts easily to the various locales required by the eight plays. Miriam Nilofa Crowe's lighting is appropriate throughout as well. All in all, it's another anthology evening that TheDrillingCompaNY can be proud of.