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A CurtainUp Review

by Les Gutman

South Side Cafe in the Theater District

I could be snow, dickless.... Snow's got a voice.
Paul Sparks and Mandy Siegfried
P. Sparks and M. Siegfried
(Photo: S. McGee)
For those who have been following Adam Rapp through his previous quartet of plays in New York, David Korins' assiduously squalid set for this one (which consumes the entirety of the small theater at Blue Heron) will immediately suggest that we are in for more of the grim stories that are Rapp's specialty. And so we are. Baylis (Paul Sparks), Desert Storm veteran, ex-junkie, disabled, incontinent, impotent and (not surprisingly) ill-tempered, lives in this hovel with Froggy (Mandy Siegfried), a teen heroin addict he met at a strip club who now has, perhaps among other things, hepatitis. Both have experienced a series of additional indignities in their lives that have combined to bring their fortunes to the current miserable state.

None of this is likely to shock Rapp's seasoned audience even as it plays out in explicit depiction under his own direction. (It will, however, be more than some are willing to take, as evidenced by the clumps of attendees, including at least one critic, who escaped at the intermission.) What astonishes those of us willing to confront our society's dregs is a realization that first manifests itself in a scene in which Baylis is describing the night he met Froggy: they are in love. Yes, as Rapp admits in his program notes, he has written his first love story.

Blackbird could not paint a much bleaker picture of human existence. Yet from its ashes, fueled by this love, a phoenix rises. It is Christmas Eve, and all Froggy seems to want for Christmas is her next fix. But she gets something else. It may not be much but Rapp's ugly journey brings the nature of the human heart into a clarity that eludes many happier lead-ins.

As has been the case with Rapp's previous efforts, the language of the play is both beautifully crafted and keenly observant. It is also, as has plagued his other plays, wordy and at times insufficiently grounded in maintaining its dramatic tension. Simply stated, it is too long (the announced running time missed the mark by nearly half an hour!) and sometimes seems to relish its detail in a way playwrights (as opposed to novelists, which Rapp also is, as I have observed before) can't afford.

Rapp also directs, which likely compounds the play's torpidity. That said, in general, his direction is quite fine. Both actors do well by their assignments; Sparks is masterful. His Baylis is as committed a performance as one could hope for. Siegfried conveys both a adolescent cockiness and, quite beautifully, the guarded-against insecurity for which it is a façade. Where she falters is in rendering Froggy's physical condition believably; her voice is too strong and her spirit too intact for someone suffering the ailments and infirmities she must endure.

I mentioned Mr. Korins' set at the top of this review but it bears mentioning again: it is an essential ingredient in creating the play's ambiance. Jane Cox supplies lighting which is equally effective in this effort, and Eric Shim does exceptional work with the sound design demands, which are considerable and also an important part of the created environment. Victoria Farrell's costumes, though by definition perhaps less pivotal to the overall effect, are on target.

On balance, notwithstanding its slowness and darkness, it qualifies as an experience well worth suffering through. Pity those who choose to leave unredeemed at the intermission.

Stone Cold Dead Serious

Written and Directed by Adam Rapp

with Mandy Siegfried and Paul Sparks
Set Design: David Korins
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Costume Design: Victoria Farrell
Sound Design: Eric Shim
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Edge Theater Company
Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 East 24th Street (Park/Lexington)
Telephone (212) 868-4444
MON, WED - SAT @8 SUN @7; $40
Opening April 15, 2004, closes May 22, 2004
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 4/9/04 performance
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