Something More Pleasant
nytheatre.com review by Jesica Avellone
August 20, 2006
Something More Pleasant is bursting at the seams with theatrical innovation and raw talent. It plays like a buffet of ideas and scene interpretations, illustrating plot points with movement, shadows, and a hodgepodge of acting styles. In fact, the play double dutches through so many genres without any apparent rhyme or reason that I had a hard time knowing when I should laugh and when my skin should crawl.
Joshua William Gelb has—as far as I can tell—combined several of the Brothers Grimm's stories for this play, conceived and directed by Brittany O'Neill, and Room 5001 Theatre has assembled a veritable army of designers to add that third dimension to his script. It's an army that marches to the beat of the same drum: the design sets us immediately in a clear, cohesive world of fantasy. We understand from the first moment of the play that anything could happen here, and Something More Pleasant succeeds admirably when the script and direction play along. Unfortunately, moments when all production elements—design, writing, acting, direction—are speaking the same language appear only in fits and starts.
The story reads appropriately like a fairy tale: the happy family is eating dinner when Mother chokes on a piece of broccoli and dies. Milquetoast Father remarries an Evil Stepmother who brings with her an Evil Stepsister (a slick, precocious Allyn Rachel). They treat innocent Brother and Sister just horribly, eventually driving them into the spooky forest, where they live in an abandoned shack quite happily.
Meanwhile, back in civilization, the King can't sleep due to prophetic, bloody dreams. His companion, the Huntsman, exists more or less to protect and put up with him. The action progresses, worlds collide, the innocent are violently abused, and hilarity ensues. Many a blood pack is offered up to the gods of gore.
Craig Jorczak deserves special attention for his exciting, wise Huntsman. He is brooding and subtle, and manages to make it through this zany play with a clear journey. By keeping us wondering when he'll unleash the furious coil within him, he makes a sidelines character the play's real protagonist, as far as I'm concerned.
Watching Something More Pleasant, I felt rather like a zealous tourist in a world where so many familiar stories could be woven and warped together. At the same time, I was very distracted by the many detours from the world of the play so clearly laid before us in the design, and even more distracted by the feeling that those detours weren't on purpose. I like jagged, uncomfortable, mishmash theatre a whole lot, but Gelb and O'Neill are perhaps too eager to commit to every "edgy" brainchild. So many disparate styles and genres share the stage that the arc of the play is uneven and, as an audience member, I didn't know what sort of emotional journey I was supposed to be traveling. By the time I was listening to the final monologue—a weepy one in heretofore unused archaic language—I had long since surrendered to confusion.