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A CurtainUp Review
"I Want You To" and "Fear and Friday Night"

by Les Gutman
Is that what you call this? A date?
---Sam, in "Fear and Friday Night"

Ken Forman and Monique Vukovic
K. Forman and M. Vukovic (Photo: Eric Maierson)

Last September, I reviewed the excellent Peter and Vandy, the first play presented by Tom Noonan's Paradise Theater that he didn't write and direct himself. The floodgates, it seems, have now opened and we have a further pair of short plays written and directed by alumni of Mr. Noonan's workshops, produced by Choices Theater Project, an offshoot of Paradise Theater.

As a play-making factory, Noonan's theater seems to produce plays with certain similarities. While these two don't rise to the level of the earlier offering, they likewise are two-handers that fall in the general category of "young relationship plays". As a pairing, they fit together quite nicely. Although "I Want You To" is billed as the main attraction, it's actually "Fear and Friday Night" that holds out the greater promise.

In the former, Michael (Ken Forman) has invited a co-worker, Anna (Monique Vukovic), to his apartment to shoot a film (or, as it turns out, a screen test). Is it a pretext? For Anna's part, she'd be happy if it were. She doesn't like being watched, but she'd be happy to have sex, if that's what this is about. Michael doesn't want to screw her; he just wants to play out a fetishistic fantasy (and film it). For three quarters of an hour, they posture, antagonize, challenge and annoy each other. Then she leaves: no mission accomplished. There are some potentially interesting topics here, but Mr. Maierson's play falters by adopting the prevailing dysfunctional communication as his own aesthetic. The result is obscure.

Ms. Vukovic's performance is as good or better than the one she offered in Peter and Vandy. Her Anna is defensive, scared, abundant in emotional baggage and yet teeming with sardonic attitude. Mr. Forman is miscast and directed toward rather than away from stereotype. (The latter would have at least been more interesting.) He's consumed with doubt and anxiety which is telegraphed by his rarely disappearing smile and attendant nervous laugh. Anna had a dozen good opportunities to put on her coat and leave before she eventually does. I wish she'd availed herself of an earlier one.

"Fear and Friday Night" presents a more conventional "date" in which Sam (Grant Varjas) nervously shows up at the apartment of Brett (Jicky Schnée) bearing the obligatory bottle of wine. He gets right to the point: he's there to have sex. Brett, getting over a recent relationship, isn't in quite such a hurry. He's armed with much punchier dialogue than his counterpart in "I Want You To," even though they share a penchant for saying precisely the wrong thing. Both plays reveal couples with more than ample insecurities, and an inability to communicate; these characters even have a hard time looking at each other meaningfully.

But whereas these problems seep into the essence of the first play, they empower the second, fueled by pregnant pauses and keenly-directed physical comedy. Both performances in this effort are quite good, Mr. Varjas especially so.

In typical Paradise Theater style, little emphasis is put on production values; indeed, none are credited. Lighting is minimal, costumes for these contemporary pieces are appropriate as is sound (which consists basically of carefully selected items from a fairly standard CD collection). Both shows operate on the same set, again a very basic apartment of a youngish city dweller.

There are no mind-boggling revelations in this work but particularly in the second, there is a sense of well-honed craft that made the first Noonan offspring play such a delight.

Peter and Vandy

I Want You To
Written and Directed by Eric Maierson
with Ken Forman and Monique Vukovic
Fear and Friday Night
Written and Directed by Lawrence Levine
with Jicky Schnée and Grant Varjas

Running time: 1 hours 15 minutes with no intermission
A production of Choices Theatre Project
Paradise Theater, 64 East 4th Street (Bowery/2 Av)
Telephone: (212) 206-1515
THUR - SAT @8, SUN @ 3; $15
Opening March 2, 2003, closing March 16, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 2/28/03 performance
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