nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
January 8, 2005
Rich Orloff takes his audience on a globe trot through seven countries, a different setting for each of his one-act plays, in an evening that is cumulatively called Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs is not, however, about travel. Rather, location serves as a convenient device from which to extract stereotypes, which is where the plays begin. Orloff then moves beyond the predictable, turns sharply into new territory, and finishes almost every effort with a flourish. This format becomes apparent as the evening progresses. Along the way, he entertains with witty dialog that keeps the audience, if not always laughing, thoroughly amused. The cast brings the material to life, with Gary Mink and Gerrianne Raphael particularly standing out.
Starting with Berlin Promotion, we meet an indecisive bureaucrat whose domineering wife threatens to withhold sex unless he asks for his long-awaited promotion, which he cannot get unless he answers one significant question about his management style. Mink is delightfully wormy as the bureaucrat. Baz Snider succeeds as the boss, showing both authority and weakness within minutes of each other, while Kim Reed, as the wife, sets the stage for conflict.
In Prague Summer, a capitalist and his parasitic lover try to convince an old acquaintance to abandon his useless idealism and discover the benefits of converting proverbial crumbs into a whole loaf of bread. Reed, as the lover, commands attention. She is the only one in costume—a marvelous furry cockroach costume designed by Cheryl A. McCarron. She flips her limbs absently and with amusing effect while Mink as the idealist and Richard Kent Green as the capitalist effectively argue their points. It is magic realism, ending with a flight of fancy.
Poking at piety and bordering on satire, I Married a Pope: the Pilot Episode imagines an American pope the morning after a party where he passed out from drink, but not before marrying a showgirl. Laurie Ann Orr interprets the showgirl with powder puff sweetness, and leaves the tartiness to her brief, hot pink outfit. The real drama emerges some minutes later when the pope’s mother appears. Here, Raphael delivers some of the best lines of the evening and does so with the authority every mother wishes she had.
Orloff’s satire lands more firmly in Triumph in Argentina, where a kinky couple recruits an eager American who is willing to try group sex, is enthusiastic about seducing the wife, but sets his limits when he is asked to play the part of Hitler. Orloff doesn’t moralize. Instead, he goes on to say one more thing. And, Triumph in Argentina ends just right. Greg Skura’s All-American boob stands in stark relief against Green and Reed’s German-obsessed couple.
Marriage is the theme of Off the Map and Brazilian Wax Eloquent, both among the best pieces of the evening. In the first, Antarctica is a metaphor for a marriage gone cold. The concept is clever, and hats off again to McCarron for a costume so engaging that it helps Mink, as the local resident, steal the scene. In Brazilian, a middle aged couple arrives in Rio, where he hopes to gawk at the beautiful Brazilian women on the beach and she hopes to hide her cellulite and stretch marks. In one weak argument she blurts, “We’ll look ridiculous.” He responds, “We’re American. That’s our role.” Departing from his usual sequence, Orloff ends with something new—a tender monologue that Snider delivers from the heart, causing the audience to sigh audibly.
The final play, Bulgarian Rhapsody, is unfortunately one of the weaker entries. It finds an American visiting his Bulgarian relatives, only to realize that they would do anything to touch U.S. soil. As in the other pieces, there are funny lines, playful gags, an excellent prop courtesy of Yana Babaev, and a few surprises. Mostly, it is a vehicle for the ensemble to appear together, a nice concept, but no excuse for supplanting the stronger ending that Brazilian offered.
Holli Harms directs the ensemble of seven with brisk pace and precise timing, both necessary to highlight Orloff’s humor. She incorporates local accents, and while not entirely authentic, they work well enough for the fun at hand. Timothy R. Mackabee and Andrew Rothschild designed the sets and lighting, respectively. Co-produced by the Foolish Theatre Company, Foreign Affairs provides a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the WorkShop Theater Company.