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A CurtainUp Review


Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.--- Henry Kissinger
Jennifer Dundas, Thomas Jay Ryan & Alison Weller
(Front to back): Jennifer Dundas, Thomas Jay Ryan & Alison Weller
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The bakers dozen of playwrights who comprise the 13P Collective have now launched their third play, Aphrodisiac by Rob Handel, once again with an excellent cast. It's a torn from the headline drama revolving around a Washington scandal -- the disappearance in 2001 of Chandra Levy, a twenty-four year intern who had been having an affair with a heretofore not particularly well-known California Congressman. Gary Condit. It was even darker than most tales of political misconduct, because Levy eventually turned up dead, her body too badly decomposed to provide solid clues about how she died.

While the Levy-Condit affair did not have quite the long-range effect on the state of our Union as the Bill Clinton-Monika Lewinsky brouhaha, it was nonetheless devastating to the victim's and the congressman's family. And it is through the promiscuous politician's adult children that Handel contemplates what really happened. Like many politicians the fictional Condit was apparently too wrapped up in his work and a frequent extra-curricular affairs to be close enough to his children for them to meet and face the Levy disappearance that drew the whole family into the eye of the publicity storm.

Handel's twist is to keep the main players in the scandal -- the Congressman and the intern -- entirely off stage. Instead the story unfolds through daughter Alma's (Jennifer Dundas) and son Avery's (Thomas Jay Ryan) role playing attempts to figure out whether their father could be a murderer as well as an adulterer. While these role-playing episodes stick pretty closely to the published details about the actual scandal, it doesn't really matter whether the details of the real story are still clear in your memory. Ditto for the Clinton-Lewinsky affair which not only figures prominently in the dialogue, but introduces an imaginary Monica (Alison Weller) into one Alma-Avery "game."

The story telling structure lends a piquant aura to Handel's play and demands close attention. The role playing device is cleverly and seamlessly revealed after the first scene which replays a possible final date between the lovers. Dundas and Ryan expertly navigate between their Alma and Avery selves and the roles assumed as psychological detectives. Weller brings an added note of mystery as a reflective Monica Lewinsky.

Through no fault of the actors, what starts out as a fresh take on a somewhat stale and familiar Washington melodrama, is hobbled by too many lengthy monologues, and rather static scene-to-scene shifts by director Ken Rus Schmoll. With a strong assist from Garin Marschall's lighting skills, Schmoll does manage to create a starkly realistic car scene that winds things up with the same initial feeling of intriguing freshness with which it begins. Clearly, there's enough here, as there was in this Collective's previous plays, to make one look forward to their future productions.

Previous 13P plays reviewed at CurtainUp: Penetration Play. . .The Internationalist.

Written by Rob Handel
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Cast: Jennifer Dundas and Thomas Jay Ryan, Alison Weller
. Set Design: Sue Rees
Costume Design: Michelle R. Phillips
Lighting Design: Garin Marschall
Sound Design: Bray Poor
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes, plus one intermission.
13P Collective at Downstairs Theater at P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue (at 9th Street) (212) 477-5288
From 1/07/05 to 1/30/05; opening 1/09/05.
Thursday - Sun at 8pm;also Jan 29 at 3pm
Tickets: $15.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 8th press performance.
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