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A CurtainUp Review

He was angry and she laughed at him and he broke her wrist. The next day, he brought her that box. And she said why? Which was hopeful. And he said 'The next time you want to open your mouth, you open this instead. Then we'll be okay.'—Mary
Lisa Velten Smith and Dan Patrick Brady
(Photo by Felix Photography)
Karl Gajdusek's Fubar (a U.S army acronym tor f- - -ed up beyond all recognition) making its premiere as part of 59E59 Theaters' Americas Off Broadway has an intriguing premise. It might even live up to some of those adjectives in the subtitle — Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantastic — and be a gripping and penetrating play if the writer and director Larissa Kokernot had exercised a bit more self-control.

This is the setup: Mary (Lisa Velten Smith) is a physician at a local hospital. Her husband David (Jerry Richardson) is a photographer who cannot really connect with his wife as a mature adult. They've just moved into the San Francisco apartment left to them by Mary's recently deceased mother, a lifelong victim of spousal abuse who ended her life with a bullet to her head and left behind piles of boxes filled with mementoes for Mary and David to open and decipher.

As the battered daughter of a battered mother, Mary resists delving into the past. But David is fascinated by Mary's mother's version of her romanticized relationship with her husband. It is up to Mary to not only come to terms with her past but also make David understand how that past has formed her personality

Not long after they've moved in, Mary goes walking in the wrong neighborhood one evening and is severely beaten by an unknown assailant. Angry and humiliated, she seeks some resolution to her mental and physical agony by taking boxing lessons from DC (Dan Patrick Brady), a crusty veteran of the ring who doesn't pull his punches.

This in itself is quite a story but the playwright ramps up the plot with another story line involving David's seeking out his old friend and drug supplier, Richard (Ryan McCarthy). This philosopher/drug dealer lives with his girlfriend (or perhaps wife), Sylvia (Stephanie Szostak), in a drug-induced fog. Their main contribution to the plot seems to be to titillate the audience with scenes of cybersex, seduction and one awful moment when the audience is held in suspense as to whether or not Sylvia will strip and reveal to David the almost nonexistent tits he has been drooling over.

The recovering Mary turns out to be the one sane person in a world spinning out of control. Smith depicts her as vulnerable and strong. The scenes in which she and Brady spar both physically and mentally are powerful. The same cannot be said for her interaction with David. This is partly due to the script. But one can't help thinking that Richardson is a little boy trying to play a man's part.

As Mary works through her anger— at her husband for being emotionally absent, the mother who preferred her husband's attention over her daughter's well-being, and the assailant who has hurt her so badly — the play reveals how personal relationships and the wider community foster violence and how we are all victims and also victimizers.

Kokernot keeps the action moving seamlessly and urgently with the help of the mysteriously falling boxes that seem to be pushed by some heavenly hand; also the faultless lighting of Ben Hagen. Projections which take the form of photography, the written word and instant Internet messaging, are interesting but not totally necessary elements.

With so much going for it, it's a pity Fubar is so flawed. Perhaps with the theater scene so crammed with work clamoring for attention, Gajdusek felt compelled to give the audience enough cursing, undressing, drug addiction and other aspects of the seamier side of San Francisco to keep even the most ardent thrill-seeker happy. But with the talent heso obviously has, he could and should let his work thrive on the merit of his important themes and skillful use of language.

Written by Karl Gajdusek
Directed by Larissa Kokernot
Cast: Lisa Velten Smith (Mary), Jerry Richardson (David), Ryan McCarthy (Richard), Stephanie Szostak (Sylvia), Dan Patrick Brady (DC)
Lighting Design; Ben Hagen
Set Design: Devin Judge
Costume Design: Emily Pepper
Sound Design/Composer: Amit Prakash
Projection Design: Shawn E. Boyle
Fight Director: Adam Alexander
Photography: Felix Photography
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission
59E59 Theaters 212-279-4200
From 6/11/09; opens 6/16/09; closing 6/28/09
Tuesday at 7:15 PM, Wednesday - Saturday at 8:15 PM and Sunday at 3:15 PM
Tickets: $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members)
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 13, 2009
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