Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Necessary Adjustments

"Necessary Adjustments" presented by Phare Play Productions at the Beckmann Theatre, October 24, 2009

I'm in something of a quandary.

As my blog profile indicates, I am pursuing acting here in NYC.

The case has arisen where I am now reviewing a play for which I not only auditioned, but was called back. Based on my limited observations during the call back, I didn't think I would get the part, so the surprise of an email from the director letting me know officially, was actually a pleasant one (the first time I've ever had this kind of response from an audition). Usually, no news is bad news in this business.

Next, as a member of the Independent Theatre Bloggers Association, I received an invitation to review Necessary Adjustments. I was anxious to see what I had gotten near to participating in.

I wanted it to be good. I really did.

Now, as some of you know (and some of you may not), producing *any* theatre in NYC is difficult. Everything costs a lot more than you think it might, so production values often suffer. The producers at New World Stages have recognized that the value in staging more than one show at a time in the same theatre can help manage costs.

Phare Play Productions has made a similar choice, producing Necessary Adjustments along with Jellyroll Shoes at the Beckmann, filling the theatre 9 times per week instead of one off-off-Broadway production running 4 or 5 times per week (not uncommon for OOB).

Even then, finding an affordable and appropriate performance space is more easily said than done. I've seen enough off-off Broadway to know that the right performance space can be a pivotal factor in the success of a play.

For Necessary Adjustments, this has landed the show in an unfortunate space which does nothing to foster an evening of entertainment. Likewise, director Christine Vinh Weems hasn't figured out how to effectively overcome this fatal flaw in her production. The result is a series of overlong and clunky set changes which include actors moving sofas on, off and around the stage.

Playwright Michael Weems, sporting a number of scripts produced in NYC has landed on an interesting premise. His story focuses on the pending nuptials of Jeff (Jaike Foley-Schultz) and Millie (Maggie Parker), an unhappy event for her mother Beverly (Carol Palmaro) who dislikes the young man. Bev's husband Brent (David Merrick) is much easier-going, particularly after a cocktail or two and tries to keep the peace. Younger brother Ken (Austin Mitchell) can't draw the kind of attention that will instill in him the confidence he needs to move out of his parents' basement, nor has he the maturity to figure out how to get it. Jeff's old college buddies Darren (Joey Mintz) and single father Nolan (Paul Herbig) along with Millie's life-long chum and maid of honor Kate (Rebecca Servon) round out the wedding party. Don't forget the stripper Ivy/Hope (Megan Channell) who brings an oddly unexpected twist to the proceedings. Mr. Weems has a good ear for dialogue, but has chopped up the plot into lots of little scenes. Had there been a better stage (or staging) this might not have been such a liability. There are a couple of other odd choices. The mother of the bride, inexplicably, conducts the ceremony. The groom, feeling that his in-laws-to-be hate him, takes a "groomzilla" approach to creating a perfect event in the hope that such will bring them around. This might have rung true, except for the counterpoint that the in-laws had to borrow from the maternal grandmother to pay for the wedding.

Beyond that, there are some bright spots among the very attractive cast. Mr. Foley-Schultz finds a third dimension to his role on a fairly regular basis, as do Mr. Herbig, Ms. Parker, Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Servon, though less frequently. The rest are serviceable, but none demonstrated the ability to pick up a cue. The cast could have cut 10 minutes off the run time with this alone.

I also felt like there wasn't enough focus on the story since each member of the audience got a program tied with a ribbon like a wedding bulletin and a handful of M&Ms tied in tulle like wedding favors. As hands-on as Mrs. Weems was (also running box office the night I attended), I got the feeling it was her time spent creating these superfluous touches that should have been spent working on the performance.

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