nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 10, 2012
Maggie Cino has been a FringeNYC stalwart since the very beginning, but Decompression marks her playwriting debut in the festival. It's a fascinating piece of work.
It takes place after a Decompression Party (which Wikipedia describes as " a local reunion for Burning Man participants to help ease themselves back into everyday society after the "big event"; I have to admit to not knowing a lot about what apparently is a thriving American subculture). Eight friends—most of whom share some complicated history—arrive at Justin and Amanda's apartment in Bushwick (Brooklyn), high (or trying to get high) on Ecstasy and edgy as all get-out as they face the prospect of returning to their daily lives.
Justin and Amanda are having marital troubles. Elena is Justin's ex-girlfriend. Mark is clearly interested in Amanda, though he's on great terms with Justin. Katie, who may be a lesbian, is Amanda's best friend, and Miss Asphalt-Popcorn, who really is a lesbian, will offer a couple of revelations before the night is over. Shlomi is interested in anyone wearing a skirt. Art, from Tulsa, hates lotteries.
But a lottery is ultimately what all eight wind up participating in: Justin, perhaps under the influence of drugs, perhaps under the influence of his own self-hatred, conceives a game for the gang to play. Everyone will put into the pot whatever they own—cash, interest, an apartment—and the octet will draw lots. Winner take all. Katie adds a twist: the winner gets to pick one person to be their "slave."
It's an intriguing concept on which to hang a play, and Cino uses it to explore a number of different themes, the most interesting and (to my mind) successful of which is an examination of the levels of entitlement and self-absorption that this band of Gen-Xers variously possess. The script offers several surprises, astute analysis of relationships, and some really imaginative passages.
Unfortunately there were many volume problems at the performance I attended (I was sitting in the eighth row of the Kraine; possibly folks in front heard more than I did). I hope that director Patrice Miller will coach her actors to project to the rear of the house more effectively. Miller's staging didn't always feel like a comfortable fit for the play, with the actors moving around so much on the stage that it was often distracting. Some moments might have been punched up more than they were; I wanted more precision, I guess. Perhaps things will tighten up as the run proceeds.
Michael Criscuolo and Hannah Vaughn lead the cast of nine as Justin and Amanda.
Decompression is inspired by Isak Dinesen's short story "Carnival," from which a tantalizing quote appears at the end of the program. It suggests that one of the ideas in Cino's play might be that people chasing something bigger than themselves in places like Burning Man might somehow be caricatures of themselves. Decompression definitely offers some food for thought along those lines.