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The Gravity of Means

From its unprepossessing location on a block whose lone sign of nighttime commerce is a corner McDonald's, the MCC has seeded numerous original and noteworthy productions. Nixon's Nixon, last year's MCC hit comedy drama made it closer to Broadway with a move to the Westside's downstairs stage. This season's new offering The Gravity of Means, is again a comedy drama. While not quite ready for prime time, John Kovenbach's work is well worth checking out. He marches in the footsteps of writers like Pinter and Mamet, but in his funny lines especially, speaks in a voice all his own. The brisk direction of Russ Jolly and sharp performances of the four member cast do much to offset the play's flaws.

The drama revolves around three best buddies. Peter (Chris Eigeman), is rich enough to give financial as well as moral support to his friend Alan, (Christopher Collett), whose writer's block prevents him from finishing his novel. "I'm a wood carving" he states folornly, even as Peter, insistently upbeat, cheers him on. Peter also nurtures Marty, (Lenny Venito), whose insecurities about being a carpenter make him suspect Alan of looking down on him. When we first meet him, he has stopped speaking to Alan except through Peter and declares that Alan is "in danger of a permanent vocal boycott."

And then there's the girl who serves as the dramatic catalyst to puncture the bubble encasing the friends' relationships. Her name is Judy and as acted by Susan Floyd, the stage really comes alive when she makes her appearance in Act 1, scene 4. She and Peter get off to an immediate bad start when he arrives an hour late for their blind date. She cuts through his excuses with unmerciful disdain but is apparently persuaded to meet him again since the next and best scene turns into a hilarious and explosive dinner in Peter's apartment--with Alan enlisted as the waiter and Marty as the chef. Judy, stunning in a lavender pants dress, is properly charmed--though not by Peter but by his friends, particularly Marty.

So much for act one. Unfortunately act two switches gears completely. The comedy becomes a muddled and much more strictly serious proposition with a less-than-satisfying end. In the final analysis the play does not add up to the sum of its best parts. Russell Parkman, the set designer, manages to suggest several settings by unobtrusively moving some simple props on and off the small stage. The red velvet walls are somewhat troubling since they do little to establish a sense of who the characters are or what it's all about.

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