nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
October 6, 2011
A hacker who really, really loves his computer might never need to face the outside world. But what happens when the world (technically, several possible ones) comes crashing in? Mangella by Ken Ferrigni is a sexy look at just this scenario. Ned Frangipani (Anthony Manna) loves his computer, Gabriella (Ali Perlwitz). Gabriella—who is portrayed as an eager young woman with wires and sprockets on her head and a flat screen on her torso—keeps track of Ned’s life for him and is a bit needy about it. Together, they engineer various computer viruses to infect porno sites, then shake down the owners for lots of money. Of course, Ned needs the money to take care of his aging father (Bob Austin McDonald), who has had a stroke and refuses to believe that he is not the great '40s bluesman Mangella St. James. Ned keeps the old man restrained, while he uses some questionable methods to try to turn Mangella back into Dad. For good behavior, Mangella is promised a session with a prostitute with the biggest ass in L.A. County. Lily the prostitute (Hannah Wilson) arrives, looking nothing like her photo; instead of African American with a big behind, she is white and “broomstick”-shaped. However, Lily is not just a whore. She is more tech-savvy than Ned. She has lived her life only for the chance of meeting and loving Ned. She has done this several times, always being bumped back to the age 7 to try again. I recommend you see this play to find out how Lily handles this particular attempt.
The four characters are all effectively in disguise, voluntarily or involuntarily. Dad has had a stroke, is not improving, and is perhaps better off being Mangella. Ned thrives on being unknown. When talking to the Vietnamese gangster-website owners from HoChiWin.com, he always wears a Mexican wrestler’s mask. Lily sells her body, following a life of unavoidable personal tragedy. Gabriella is “virtual” to begin with. And yet, Lily has gotten closer to Ned this time than ever before, precisely because she considers the consequences of every word and action. Ned could change his life by upgrading from Windows XP (“what is this, 2004?”), picking other victims, or just plain getting up and walking out the door. But even with help from someone who loves us, how may of us have what it takes to seize the opportunity? How easy is it to put down the “Forgotten Realms” novels or whatever our crutch is, and be who we truly are?
Director Joe Jung has accurately captured all the above types of introversion, while making the characters quite sympathetic. J.J. Bernard and Francois Portier are responsible for the fabulous scenery, including a custom computer chair that is pleasantly like Captain Kirk’s. Nick Borisjuk’s sound heightens the tension a lot, with liberal use of familiar computer noises like the Windows shutdown and reboot tones; the same sound effect seems friendly one minute and ominous the next. Alex Goldberg’s lighting also helps distinguish between interior and exterior. Jessi Blue Gormezano’s costumes are very sexy, from the restless computer trappings of Gabriella to the almost nothing that Lily wears. You can see sketches of just about everyone in the show in the wonderful poster designed by Ben Schwartz, which appropriately enough looks like a Grand Theft Auto game cover.