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what do you mean

nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 15, 2013

what do you mean

Publicity image for what do you mean

what do you mean is an affectionate and very funny spoof of the trials and tribulations of making indie theater in a festival context. People who have labored in this world where the labor is all for love—and I hope I'll be forgiven for including myself, as attendee and occasional quasi-participant, in that group—will find laugh after laugh of recognition in this new comedy by Bruce A! Kraemer.

Before I proceed I have to mention that Ego Actus, the company producing what do you mean, have generously selected nytheatre.com's parent company, The New York Theatre Experience, Inc., as the beneficiary of their work here at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity (you may already know that all shows at Planet Connections are affiliated with some charitable organization). So NYTE is an interested party in the success of what do you mean, so I guess you shouldn't regard what follows as an objective review in any conventional sense. As the founder and executive director of NYTE, I am grateful and genuinely touched by Ego Actus' gesture.

Back to the show. The premise is simple: Chris Oakmont thinks he knows how to write plays because he's seen some and was even on Drama Squad in high school. So he enters a theater festival (the "Festivius Under Chelsea Kitchen"; note the acronym) and thereupon learns the hard way that there's a bit more to putting on a great show than perhaps meets the eye.

Kraemer's chief target here is the inexperienced wannabe theater artist, but the multitudinous satirical barbs in this play are directed at the world of the theater festival and the very specific types who inhabit it. There's a wise but cash-poor impresario, a visionary but temperamental director who is matched by an equally visionary but temperamental designer, an over-eager actor and a much less eager one, and an overeducated intern who has an MFA but few actual theater skills. This cast of characters is charged with teaching the clueless and hapless Chris how to write and put on his show, and in about an hour and a quarter they bring him from a virtually blank screen on his Macbook to the Festivius award night where their play (tiny little spoiler alert) will actually win at least one prize.

Many, maybe most, of the gags and insights are insder-y; people who don't inhabit the world of this play may not get why all this stuff is so hilarious and some may just think it's all pathetically true, reinforcing some of the stereotyped images that outsiders have of the indie/downtown theater scene. But if you've done a show in a "Festivius" you are going to enjoy much of what goes down here, from Peyton the Intern's zestful improv with a sock puppet to Sidney the Actor's stripping down for a gratuitous publicity shoot to Taylor the Designer's dissatisfaction with the theater's rep plot to Jessie the Director's run-in with Morgan the Producer when she wants a bonfire on stage.

Director Joan Kane keeps the pace quick and the tone light as what do you mean zips through trope after trope of festival production lore. She's assembled a fine cast that is firmly anchored by Teddy Lytle as poor playwright Chris; his blend of naiveté, optimism, and sheer vacuousness is invaluable. Alexandra Cohen Spiegler is hilarious as Peyton, and other cast members each have moments to shine; they are Nick Palladino (Sidney), Lauren D. Salvo (Jessie), Viet Vo (Taylor), and J. Dolan Byrnes (Morgan). Imaginative work is contributed by the design team of Ian Wehrle (sound), Audrey Nauman (costumes), and Zach Pizza (lights).

what do you mean is a fun celebration of indie theater and its foibles, which makes it a great fit for supporting NYTE, which celebrates those foibles every day of the year. Thanks, Bruce.