One, Two, Whatever you do . . .
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 17, 2011
One, Two Whatever You Do... boasts some of the finest acting I've ever seen at FringeNYC. Anchoring this 90-minute play is its author, Vanessa Shealy, in a performance that's assured and complex and deeply affecting. As the chorus, Ilana Becker, Ivan Perez, and Kelly Strandemo demonstrate versatility and range as they take on multiple personas on the turn of the dime. And in a nifty cameo near the end of the play, Rick Younger, as a publicity-seeking doctor, threatens to steal the whole show. Younger and Shealy both possess presence and charisma to spare. It's exciting to see their work in a space as intimate as the Fourth Street Theatre.
Shealy starts the play in fine fettle, as a a former child TV star named Angela L. Wilcox, bounding onto the stage even before the friendly FringeNYC venue director had completed his curtain speech. Her assurance and outsized demeanor made me wonder for a moment if I had really ever heard of Angela L. Wilcox: she convinced me right away that she was a person of consequence, and it took me a minute to remember that she was in fact a fictional character.
Angela has commandeered the stage, we learn quickly, to tell us her side of a story that is about to come out and that is about to make her look very bad indeed. With the help of the chorus, she replays the events for us in flashbacks. In a nutshell, what's happened is that from a tiny set of white lies and misunderstandings, Angela has allowed the world to believe that her three-year-old son Owen has a mysterious terminal illness. He does not, of course; but as the attention that Owen's supposed malady brings to Angela starts to mount, it becomes harder and harder for her to un-tell the lie.
Shealy invests Angela and her situation with very high stakes, which earns her our empathy and veers the play, for most of its running time, and despite the frequently jokey/funny dialogue and situations, into the realm of tragedy. We fear for what will happen to Angela and Owen as a result of her deception and hubris, and wonder what she will ultimately learn from this mess and how she'll resolve it.
But the play's arc, under the direction of Melissa Attebery, steers it toward black comedy; the resolution, which involves Younger's terrific doctor character, would not be out of place in a Billy Wilder film. The differences in tone create the wrong kind of tension, at least for me. A piece that was feeling like a morality play turns out, in the end, to have no moral at all.
Some other quibbles: the framing device, which has Angela taking over the theatre from a children's theatre company (explaining the Mother Goose set and props that figure throughout), makes virtually no sense at all, and feels completely unnecessary. And I could have done without the stereotyped characterizations of a Jewish agent and a Latina nurse with attitude.
But overall, One, Two Whatever You Do... is a fine showcase for Shealy, Younger, and company, and I am eager to see them in more work in the future.