Wish We Were Here
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 10, 2008
Playwright/actor Michael Phillis says, in the nytheatre.com preview for his FringeNYC entry Wish We Were Here, that he wrote this play specifically for his friend and co-star, Christine Corpuz. He's done well by her—she gives a delicious comic performance in this light-hearted comedy, portraying a tough, smart, sexy genie that leaves Barbara Eden's '60s sitcom bimbo/siren in her dust.
The premise of this two-character show is that Phillis—a striving young actor/possible slacker—is performing this show for us because his Genie has granted it to him as a wish. Apparently, he asked to star in a show of his own but he wasn't specific enough; he was hoping for something on Broadway but she has instead booked him in a fringe festival, more in line with her assessment of his capabilities at this time.
We learn, through flashbacks and conversations, that Phillis's first wish was for infinite wishes, and that when that wish was granted, the standard three-wish arrangement was abrogated in favor of a much more complicated "contract" (a giant loose leaf binder at least three inches thick is brought on stage, containing the "addendum"). (This is much funnier on stage than it sounds here, trust me.) And so Wish We Were Here turns out to be a duel between Man and Genie, played out in front of the paying audience. Who really is the Master in this relationship?
The interplay between Phillis and Corpuz is charming and possesses an underlying warmth that belies the presumed adversarial relationship between their characters; clearly both of these actors are having fun presenting this trifle for us. Corpuz gets the lion's share of comic opportunities, with Phillis generously serving as straight man for Corpuz's clowning as the manipulative, sometimes bullying Genie.
A simple, earnest life lesson is not-so-hidden within the text, but mostly Wish We Were Here goes for laughs. Phillis eschews an obvious or neat ending-with-a-moral in favor of a silly and crowd-pleasing dance-off. Marc E. Shaw's staging of the piece is generally quite successful. The uncredited costumes are definitely a mixed bag, though: for her, there's a snazzy update of Eden's I Dream of Jeannie outfit that's both witty and very flattering to Corpuz; for him, though, there's a problematic bath towel that he wears for much of the show that needs better fastening—too much of Phillis's energy on stage is spent keeping it in place (hiding another costume that's supposed to be a surprise at the show's finale).
But that can be fixed, and when it is, Wish We Were Here will be a entirely seamless and pleasant addition to this year's FringeNYC.