nytheatre.com review by Sharon Fogarty
August 15, 2004
Mankynde bills itself as a “postmodern medieval musical,” based on a play of the same name written in the 1500s by an anonymous author. The performing, writing, and musical talents are of high caliber with impressive academic credits evident. The script includes some funny jokes, often mocking the play itself. But the conflict relies on jabs at what the press release refers to as “the American political scene” and the commercial shallowness of pop stars. These hard-to-watch "villains" form an over-thrusting pop group called the Vice Squad who try to sway the title character Mankynde, played nobly by the comedic actress Jessica Almasy, into being as trite as they are.
Talented and committed Andy Paris plays Mercy, who strives to bring meaning to the Vice Squad, who gyrate offensively and all move and sound like N’Synch, New Kids and Britney with added vulgarity. The Squad is supposed to be obnoxious, boring, and gratuitous; indeed that is the force-fed message of the play.
Deliberately, infrequent moments of truth and beauty are interrupted with superfluous numbers a la Fame. A touching overture with impressive arrangement by cellist Dave Eggars is dashed when the smiley cast enters, each in a different color like members of a banal improv group and sing a cute number about how much fun we’re going to have. The repetition of these storms of superficiality forces the production into a preachy after-school special. Even the good musicians are required to play air guitar while disco music is piped in.
In the end, it is difficult to care whether Mankynde resists the Vice Squad leader, Mischief, (Christine Rea, whose vocal resonance is impressive), because the story relies on an impossible, automatic compassion, pulling sympathy and understanding from character titles alone, and not from a relatable past.
I wanted to like this show because talent is clearly present; all very good actors with excellent voices including funny Christopher Burris, handsome Ari Butler, and Marissa Rodriguez, whose powerfully articulate soprano belt and comedic skills echo Maya Rudolf. And there are many clever images and interesting lines, hinting at the play’s potential, including the witty digs of Julie Crosby (book and lyrics) and Nancy Magarill (music and lyrics) who, with a connection to the pathos of their main character, will hopefully go far.