nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
October 8, 2009
It's a dog-eat-dog world, and in Inventing Avi, the energetic farce by Robert Cary and Benjamin Feldman, the characters throw caution, moral fortitude, and just about everything else to the wind to get what they want. And what is it they want? The young playwright, David, who earns a living as assistant to a producer, wants his play produced; Judy, his ditzy boss, wants a brilliant script without reading one; Judy's estranged sister, Mimi, diva of a certain age, needs a leading role; and Amy, the ingenue at Kinko's, needs a juicy part to kick off her career. Avi, a hapless, amoral chameleon, makes it all happen—at a price; and, Astrud, a Romanian astrophysicist working as Mimi's maid, reflects on what she sees.
The play starts simply enough, with a monologue. Only later do we learn that this somewhat indecipherable presentation is part of David's play, a Jewish drama about Holocaust deniers, and it triggers flashbacks that explain how it came to be produced. Cary and Feldman quickly move from the monologue to weave a knotty tapestry of sly deception, runaway ambition, and absurd coincidence. Learning that Mimi is a board member of the Abraham Beagleman Trust, an organization flush with money for Jewish playwrights of Jewish plays, David and Amy plot to reunite Judy and Mimi, and offer Mimi the leading role to jump start a grant from the Trust. A grant will surely come if they can figure out a way to present the playwright as Jewish. That's where Avi comes in. Shifting among multiple timeframes, Cary and Feldman steadily build relationships among the six characters and whip them into a mild frenzy as they run into obstacles. At one point, they run several scenes simultaneously. Clever techniques such as this enliven and refresh, making Inventing Avi pretty darn funny despite many of the tale's well-worn cliches.
The relationships between the characters kick in quickly as do the many obstacles preventing the play-within-a-play's production, the most important being that Judy doesn't want to read David's play. Alix Korey is Judy, the wealthy producer. She plays her in Edith Bunker fashion, and her New York accent is just as thick. She is delightful and her timing is terrific. Stanley Bahorek as David, the playwright, aptly shows growing frustration of being so close to influence (the producer) but unable to crack it. Flashbacks show the source of Judy and Mimi's estrangement and sibling rivalry, allowing the sisters to show vulnerability as they reluctantly come together. Emily Zacharias's Mimi is perfection in her self-absorption and in her careless disregard for her maid Astrud, played with dead-on, deadpan humor by Lori Gardner. Gardner also plays Young Judy with nerdy precision. Juri Henley-Cohn walks the fine, amoral line of Avi, a young handsome commodity who can adroitly deliver whatever the market needs. Havilah Brewster doubles as the friendly Kinko copyist, Amy, and ruthless Young Mimi.
Mark Waldrop shepherds these wayward characters by maximizing the talents of his fine cast. The gestures are big and broad as they should be in farce, and the pace keeps the audience guessing. He has tremendous support from the designers. Ray Klausen has created a modern, eye-catching set: large white slabs (like sheets of paper) with the script of the play-within-the-play for all to see. Matthew Hemesath designed bold, colorful costumes appropriate for the theater crowd. Brian Nason's lighting and David Margolin Lawson's sound enhance the drama on stage. At one point, they neatly re-create the effect of camera and flashes going off during an interview scene.
The play runs two hours and fifteen minutes with an intermission - perhaps a little longer than it needs to be. Act I is packed with plot and movement. While there are a couple of nice surprises in Act II, the playwrights provide more than one opportunity to end their story. Still, the play tickled me and my companion loved it.