Pulse Ensemble Theatre's Discovery Project-a workshop production of short, unpublished plays-featured an abridged version of My Heinous Life, a musical by Frank D'Agostino that was well-received in earlier runs off-off-Broadway and in New Jersey, when it was usually performed with its "prequel," Cravings. Stripped of several scenes that provide character development-along with the background of Cravings-this version of My Heinous Life (directed by Mark Ilardi) presented a main character, Tony Casala, with no discernible personality and a nebbishy demeanor. Thus, the audience was hard-pressed to sympathize with Tony, a successful, closeted playwright whose estranged wife is taking him to the cleaners (after taking his female publicist to bed) and whose double-crossing agent is using his latest production to advance her own career. The whole thing has a misogynistic tone, as virtually every woman character in My Heinous Life is either duplicitous, mercenary, or promiscuous. In addition, the play seemed to be set in the wrong place-the back-stabbing and homophobia Tony confronts is more typical of Hollywood than Broadway.
Other plays in the Discovery Project were more rewarding. Judg Ment Day, directed by Kathrin Kühne, was a two-character piece about a woman being held in an unknown place for an unidentified transgression. While this appeared to be yet another riff on Purgatory (à la the movie Defending Your Life or David Mamet's one-act An Interview), it was never clearly established whether this was the afterlife or some kind of abduction. Judg Ment Day was engaging enough to leave the audience eager to see more of these characters and story-an accomplishment for which the excellent actors Hogan Gorman and J. Everett Sherman (who wrote the play) also deserve credit.
Bear Country, written and directed by Daniel Highet, was a clever commentary on human and animal nature, with Dan Marzollo as a type-A yuppie who seeks solace on a camping trip after losing his job and fiancée. He is comforted, challenged and enticed by a wolf, a mountain lion and a bear, whose attitudes and behavior parallel those of the man and the people in his life. A couple of scenes lasted too long, but Bear Country had wickedly endearing sense of humor and fine performances by Marzollo and, as the animals, Anthony Rand, Penelope Gioris and Arthur Lundquist.
Paula Taylor's Stuck, directed by Michael Locascio, had a promising premise but clichéd characters. While these types-a secretary who knows best, a CEO suffocated by his life of privilege, a female executive who keeps hitting the glass ceiling-may exist in the real corporate world as they do in the stalled elevator in the play, they were treated too flippantlyto have any significance. Furthermore, Stuck's happy ending seemed out of place in this contemporary tale of angst.
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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri