nytheatre.com review by Matt Johnston
February 28, 2008
Put simply, Gina Gionfriddo's U.S. Drag is easily one of the best productions I have seen in the past year. One of the biggest compliments I can give it is to say that U.S. Drag is truly a modern American play with a cutting-edge sensibility. The play is funny, quirky, and thoroughly engaging throughout. Gionfriddo should be lauded for her ability to connect with the new 21st century audience. It's the kind of effort you don't see every day in American theatre.
The story concerns two young, very unsatisfied women living in New York City. As the play opens, their primary desire is for cash—both for affluence, and because they can't pay their rent. So when they hear about a gigantic reward for any information on a ruthless criminal simply known as Ed who's been attacking people all over the city, they don't let the opportunity pass them by.
Along the way the women go on to join a group called SAFE, or "Stay Away From Ed," to get more information on this ruthless criminal. Mostly what they gain is a quirky group of friends, each dealing with personal issues they can't seem to shake. These include Christopher, a popular author of creative non-fiction; Evan, the founder of SAFE who is giving almost to a fault; James, a rich man who spends all his lonely time researching crime victims and sharing in their tears; Ned, the girls' chronically lonely and angry roommate; and Mary, one of Ed's victims who comes to the group to seek some sort of peace.
In fact, they all come together, in a way, to seek something from each other. Unfortunately no one seems equipped with the tools to fill the gaps that another person might have. And the one thing they have in common, Ed, is a concept without a face, shape, or voice. The story unfolds from there as each person works through their own personal issues through the medium of Ed.
A play this good deserves a fantastic production team and cast to pull it off, and the stageFARM does so with flying colors. Trip Cullman's staging is smart and inventive. Much of this play's propulsion hinges on its intrigue, on both an intellectual and a storytelling level. Another director might have staged a much clunkier production that put the focus on the many different locations we have throughout the play. But Cullman knows to play it swift and resourceful, and the show seamlessly and excitingly moves forward. In this vain, Sandra Goldmark should also be commended for her inventive and resourceful set design, as well as gritty, offbeat sound from Bart Fasbender.
The show seems perfectly cast. In the lead roles, Tanya Fischer and Lisa Joyce breath stellar life into these two misguided young women, Lucas Papaelias is hilarious and sad in the role of SAFE leader Evan, and Logan Marshall-Green hits all the right notes and then some with Christopher, the incredibly strange and damaged writer. The relatively small cast had great chemistry with each other and there is not a weak link in the bunch.
I can't recommend U.S. Drag enough. At times, the play has the same sort of feeling that the best television might have, pulling you along with its plot and intrigue, but when it begins probing deep inside these human beings through a world of ideas, it feels unmistakably like the best theatre.