nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
June 30, 2006
The first half of Suzanne Bachner's new interactive comedy, Bite, is really great. It's set in a bustling New York dentist's office, where we are immediately introduced to a rogue's gallery of colorful characters. First, there are the dentists: the sheepish but well-meaning Dr. Greenmeadow (who still lives with his mother), and Dr. Bruce, a lascivious and overbearing Casanova. Then there's Natalie, their saucy, tough-talking receptionist: she only answers the phone when she feels like it, and fills out patients' forms for them. There is also a pair of compulsive repeat patients: the OCD Parker, who flosses 32 times a day and wants to come in for a daily cleaning; and Millie, who it turns out has been trying to get cavities so she can see Dr. Greenmeadow more often. Finally, there is Annabelle, the sweet southern girl with no insurance who is new to the city. (She is so open that, at one point, she gaily admits to a total stranger, "I live with pain on a daily basis—sexual abuse.") These kooky characters, and the dizzy, ticklish energy they create, is so funny, and handled so well by Bachner (as both author and director), that it's more than a little disappointing when Bite's second half—which takes place in a high-end S&M dungeon called Purgatory—slows to a putter before completely running out of steam.
But then, of course, it might have just been the night I saw it. You see, the audience is partly in charge of deciding which way Bite goes. At specific points throughout the play, Dr. Greenmeadow breaks the fourth wall and charges the audience with voting on what should happen next. Which patient should he call in: Annabelle (whom he has a crush on) or Millie (who seemingly has a crush on him)? Should he try to find Dr. Bruce in Purgatory or go back to the office? Should he eat that power bar in his pocket for breakfast or ask Natalie to order him a fried egg sandwich (which will incur her wrath)? There are a number of possibilities, and they're all up to the audience. (This isn't improvised, though: each possible outcome has been scripted and rehearsed by the cast.)
Still, I couldn't help thinking that Bite lost its focus once it reached the dungeon. Is it supposed to be a raucous sex romp that implores us not to judge a book by its cover (for it turns out that a good many of the office denizens either patronize or work at Purgatory)? Or is it the story of Dr. Greenmeadow finally growing some balls and taking control of all aspects of his life? I wasn't sure, and I don't think Bite is either. Furthermore, the play doesn't seem to be much interested in any moral its story may have. Not that anyone looks to farce for deep meanings (I sure don't). I just think that Bite's second half could benefit from some tighter writing, both plot and character-wise, instead of relying on the easy sex jokes inherent in the dungeon setting.
But then, again, it might have just been the night I saw it.
Regardless, there are still a lot of things to like about this production. The audience participation sections are particularly fun, as audience members are plucked out of their seats and thrust into the action. On the night I attended, one man got his teeth examined, another man was prepped to partake in a sexual act that rhymes with "olden towers," and a woman whose birthday it was received a proper birthday spanking. If you plan on seeing Bite, be prepared to get involved.
The entire cast is terrific. Robert Brown is the show's sturdy lynchpin as Dr. Greenmeadow, giving a funny, endearing performance as the lovable schlump who is seemingly the butt of every third joke. Amy Overman is enchantingly nutty, yet also sneakily seductive, as Millie. Naomi Warner (filling in that night for Jennifer Gill) is the perfect Southern belle: beautiful, sweet, and charming—just don't get on her bad side. And there are some priceless scene-stealing performances from Justin Plowman as Dr. Bruce, the hilarious Bob Brader as Parker, and slow-burn dynamo Theresa Goehring as Natalie.
All in all, Bite is a fun and worthwhile production. And, The Red Room is the perfect funky, intimate venue for it. Bringing a drink in with you—from the KGB Bar, one flight below—makes the shenanigans even more palatable. Just make sure you arrive on time. Latecomers get seated on stage, in the dentist's waiting room. And, then there's no telling what'll happen next.