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A CurtainUp Review

What are you, a method playwright? You have to live the play before you can write it? ---Maggie

 Benita Robledo and Josh Vasquez in a scene from  Linnea (photo  Brian Ach)
Benita Robledo and Josh Vasquez in Linnea
John Regis's new play, a modern retelling of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, is also the story of a young playwright's attempt to adapt it and the people he encounters while doing so. Linnea is therefore an adaptation within an adaptation and a fairly interesting concept. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work either as a retelling of Dostoyevsky's classic story or simply taken on its own merits .

The Idiot is about a woman torn between two men. Linnea tells the same tale. It starts with, Brooklyn playwright Danny (Josh Vasquez) dreaming of a beautiful dancer named Linnea (Benita Robledo). And as it turns out he finds and falls for the real woman almost immediately — but there are complications. Linnea is an exotic dancer who does con jobs on the side and is involved with a violent tattoo artist named Cody (Jamil Mena). Danny and Cody quickly become rivals for Linnea's heart and body, with possibly dangerous results. To add to the complications, there's a cast of quirky characters whobecome tangled up in the messy romance. They include two clowns, a thespian beggar and a pre-hipster era bookseller.

What's most striking about Linnea is less the story Dostoyevsky inspired story as the piece's theatrical self-awareness. For all the love and lust that's played out, Linnea is essentially about the nature of adaptation and the world of the East village in the early 1990s. As Danny continually refers to the similarities between The Idiot and his life, the main story line is often waylaid by those minor characters who come into his life: The two clowns (Stephen Day and Gabe Levey), who happen to be patrons at Linnea's strip joint put on a routines that's straight out of vaudeville (and unfortunately, not very funny by today's standards). . .a beggar at the park discusses his glory days of acting.. . and the poor but perky bookseller Maggie (also performed by Benita Robledo) discusses literature with Danny.

It bears repeating that this is an interesting concept. The problem is that its execution just isn't all that effective and the play's dream world isn't particularly mesmerizing. The random characters and continual distractions from the plot make Linnea feel like a scattershot, aimless play rather than a surreal collection of experiences and realizations. Though Danny reminds us of the possibly fatal consequences of his love affair with Linnea in the manner of the tragic, The Idiot, the stakes never feel particularly high.

Part of the reason the play doesn't live up to its intriguing concept is also due to the lackluster production, which simply never takes off. Peter Dobbins' direction is admirably fluid, but it is about as slowly paced as a Dostoyevsky novel, with very little humor or snap encouraged in the delivery of the dialogue. Even the physical humor (mostly antics from the clowns and Danny's occasional pratfall) lacks vigor.

The romantic trio of Robledo, Vasquez and Mena are all committed and talented performers, but they too fail to bring the necessary spark and energy to their performances and often seem to take themselves too seriously. One exception: Robledo is wonderful when she is dancing, whether in Danny's dreams or in the gritty strip club. It is in those moments that Linnea begins to seem as captivating as everyone constantly claims she is — leaving us with tantalizing glimpses of the really absorbing and original play lurking in this production.

Playwright: John Regis
Directed by Peter Dobbins
Cast: David Bodenschatz (Clown), Stephen Day (Red), Jenn Zarine Habeck (Susan), Gabe Levey (Slim), Christy Linn (Waitress), Jamil Mena (Cody), Benita Robledo (Maggie/Linnea), Ken Trammell (The Beggar King), Josh Vasquez (Danny)
Set Design: Todd Edward Ivins
Costume Design: Jessica Lustig
Lighting Design: Bill Sheehan/Matthew Gordon
Sound Design: Scott O'Brien
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, includes one intermission
Storm Theatre at St. Mary's, 145 W. 46th St.,
From 1/6/07 to 2/3/07; opening 1/11/07
Thurs to Sat @ 7:30pm, Sat @ 2 and 7:30 pm
Tickets: $20
Reviewed Julia Furay based on January 12th performance.
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