A Sextet of Dysfunction
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
October 19, 2006
The ambitious new troupe Robot vs. Dinosaur premieres the new collection A Sextet of Dysfunction, a group of six one-act plays by five new playwrights. The mission statement of RvD is "bringing theatre that can rival a six-pack and a night of reality TV," which is a commendable populist goal. The company has a tremendous amount of energy and appears to have a sizable audience base, but the quality of the plays selected for the evening are wildly uneven, making for a hit-and-miss affair.
Running at a too-lengthy two hours and twenty minutes, Sextet begins promisingly enough with What's In Chicago?, a profanity-laced intercourse by Steven Wagner concerning two roommates in their early/mid-20s. Comedic standout Will Allen plays the stoner who subtly sabotages his roommate's romantic entanglements in between bouts of video-gaming and bong hits. The script, directed by Michael McIntosh, is amusingly vulgar, and fortunately Allen adds a winning sweetness to his character. The second piece, Two Person Conversation, by Matthew Haldeman and directed by Molly Kramer, could have been safely omitted, as the story of two ex-roommates who are forced to see each other at major holidays offers nothing particularly humorous or moving.
It can't be Haldeman's fault, however, because he is responsible for the finest piece of the evening, Moment. Brilliantly directed by Dev Bondarin, it illustrates the casual ignorance of chatterbox twentysomethings who are watching an older couple have a semi-public fight. While the two young people give their own interpretations of what the couple are discussing, clearly the middle-aged arguers are dealing with a ferocious, life-altering situation. When that erupts in violence, the almost blind inaction of the younger folks is both shockingly real and genuinely unnerving. Terrific work from both Peggy Horan and Bill Prudy as the fighting couple, who have no verbal dialogue in the scene and instead stand out with their movement and physical technique. The piece is truly moving, and the staging by Bondarin is pitch-perfect.
The fourth selection, and first after a ten-minute intermission, is A Three Little Dumpling Adventure by Megan Cohen. There is some great individual work done in this surreal, Christopher Durang-ish short play, directed by Andrea Morales, about a dysfunctional family of Mommy, Daddy, and three pork dumplings. Yes, that's the plot—instead of children, Mommy gave birth to three "pot stickers." The play begins as if it were a myriad of voices in Mommy's head, with each Dumpling representing the psychological id, ego, and superego—and if it stuck to that initial promise, A Three Little Dumpling Adventure really might have something going. But when the play abandons those ideas and drifts into a strange world of sandwich-making and repetitive dialogue, the meandering does the script in. Fortunately, there is some hilarious work by Erika Creagh as Dumpling 3, and both Whitney Parshall (Mommy) and Thomas Demarcus (Daddy) turn in solid performances.
The fifth piece, Family Car, written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Y. Angel Wuellner, is ostensibly about an SUV soccer mom whose family grows up and apart in between trips to the drive-thru Burger King. The play fails to delve deeply enough into the characters for the audience to feel any sympathy for their travails, and when the climactic revolt against the oppressive father figure occurs (who does more ignoring than oppressing), I felt completely indifferent to the piece. The final play, Saints in Strange Places by Dave Holstein, is theoretically about Dominic (Thomas Brown) and Raisin (Colleen Horan) who meet in a hospital waiting room. Raisin has run over her lover's wife with her car, while Dominic's brother is an ordained saint named Perry who is in the process of shitting puppies. Raisin apparently is some kind of a semi-crazy killer who runs out of the room and unplugs a seven-year-old boy from his respirator, but there's an ironic twist that provides the unlikely happy ending. It is possible that Saints would have gotten a better response earlier in the evening, as the placement of intermission made the second "half" of the evening feel far longer than the first.
To sum up the evening, Robot vs. Dinosaur should be commended for risk-taking with their mission statement and their tremendous positive energy. There is a lot of talent among the group assembled—but the material needs to be more carefully curated in order to attract the audience that their mission statement seeks.