nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 16, 2009
FUBAR is a play by Karl Gajdusek that has been brought to New York by 59E59 as the final entry in their Americans Off Broadway festival (this production comes from Project Y Theatre Company; it's their NYC debut). It tells the story of David and Mary, a married couple who have just moved to San Francisco from some unspecified other place, following the suicide of Mary's mother, Judith. Judith has left behind a house for them to live in, and a large collection of boxes for them to unpack, presumably containing her possessions, each of them labeled with a title like "Something I Did For Another Person" or, more simply, "For David."
This is an intriguing premise for a play—unpacking a parent's life to discover something about her or yourself or both. This is not, however, what FUBAR is about, and though several of the early scenes center on the boxes (with their labels projected on the side wall of the stage), the conceit is quickly abandoned as the sensational but unconvincing tracks of Mary and David's lives are laid out by the playwright.
David falls in with an old friend, Richard, who is a drug dealer and apparent expert on pharmaceuticals; David becomes a persistent customer and also becomes obsessed with Richard's odd, sexy, enigmatic wife Sylvia. Sylvia is very into cybersex and David uses that fascination to his advantage.
Mary goes out one evening for a walk and becomes the victim of a brutal, near-fatal, random attack. After she is released from the hospital, she decides to learn how to defend herself and enlists a boxing coach named D.C. to teach her.
Mary and David find, not surprisingly under these very strange and strained circumstances, that their marriage is falling apart.
Though Gadjusek brings both of the threads of his story to internally consistent closure, he never supplies sufficient back story or characterization to explain how his protagonists got so badly broken, and as a result FUBAR is, for me, unsatisfying. The five actors work gamely with the material under Larissa Kokernot's direction, but they are ultimately defeated by the challenge of having to portray people who we only observe doing things that make no sense. Some of the problems stem from Kokernot's very awkward use of the admittedly small Theatre B space at 59E59: Richard, for example, makes himself an omelet by bringing a plug-in wok-type pan, a half-dozen eggs, and an onion into the living room of David and Mary's home, having entered from a doorway that heretofore has represented the front door of the house. This is disorienting. The use of the side wall (rather than the rear wall) for the many projections is quite problematic; it's caused by the large quantity of storage boxes lined up against the back of the stage—so many of them that they use up most of the available playing area.
For the record, the actors are Lisa Velten Smith (Mary), Jerry Richardson (David), Ryan McCarthy (Richard), Stephanie Szostak (Sylvia), and Dan Patrick Brady (D.C.)—all delivering professional performances, though I wondered why the playwright's note in his script urging diverse casting hadn't been taken into account by the director, who, the program tells us, is Gadjusek's wife.