nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
June 16, 2006
TheDrillingCompaNY's current evening of one-acts centers on the theme of security. The writers showcased here define that term in many different ways, but not always effectively. Lots of risks are taken, but, unfortunately, the offerings in Security miss the target more often than they hit it.
The most successful works here are the simplest. Brian Dykstra's Bells and Whistles and Stephen Bittrich's The Proposal couldn't be more different story-wise, but both have clear points of view. In the former, Dykstra skewers covert doubletalk as several government agencies try to one-up each other in breaking an enemy code; in the latter, a marriage proposal is extended to a Jane Austen-type heroine who must choose between pragmatic comfort and societal ruin. Both writers have a definite take on the evening's theme—Dykstra posits that national security is handled by ego-driven idiots, while Bittrich puts his protagonist's stability squarely in her own hands—and both plays are done well by their respective directors and casts.
Zahra by Neil Olson is an interesting look at the security (or lack thereof) of Middle Eastern citizens in the U.S. The daughter of a high-profile Iranian businessman is detained at a U.S. airport after she's accused of carrying classified government documents. Olson's thesis—that U.S. foreign policy changes by the day, depending on where our political interests lie—is engaging, but is undercut by lackluster direction, and a weak lead performance.
P. Seth Bauer's Killing Squirrels in Sleepy Hollow starts out as a credible look at suburban homeowner anxiety, but devolves into unbelievable and semi-offensive histrionics (would anyone talk to, or treat, black police officers as depicted here without getting arrested?). In 100 Years War by Sheri Graubert, an elderly woman urges her granddaughter to be more independent, complete with salty platitudes that unfortunately feel like they might have come from a Lifetime TV movie. Kate McCamy's Safety Off makes an illicit, backstreet handgun purchase the setting for an unconvincing, over-the-top husband-and-wife spat. While their boldness of tone is admirable, all three of these plays would be better served by a more sober outlook from their authors.
The most disappointing plays here are also the ones that risk the most. Don't Quit by C. Denby Swanson is a one-person show that examines the very nature of theatre itself, challenging the security of theatrical conventions. Again, an admirable idea, but it suffers from emphasizing the author's cleverness more than its theme. Paul Siefken and Rock Wilk's Circus Berzerkus is a poorly conceived satire of our current Presidential administration, presided over by a rapping clown named K-Rove, and complete with a go-go dancing Condoleezza Rice stand-in named Condalicious. Circus Berzerkus's overly strenuous attempts at humor and its extended running time ultimately cripple its potential effectiveness.
(For the record: the entire show is played to recurring, live drum accompaniment, which at first is a novel touch. But, after awhile, it becomes too overpowering for a space as intimate as the 78th Street Theatre Lab.)
Security does have some things going for it. Directors Laura Strausfeld and Carol Halstead do good work with Bells and Whistles and The Proposal, respectively. Halstead also turns in a humorous performance in the former play, while Stephanie Cozart and Josh Foldy shine in the latter piece. And, actors Don Carter, Hamilton Clancy, Bill Green, and David Marantz all give excellent performances in several of the plays.
TheDrillingCompaNY's continued dedication to their mission—creating new works "which explore a single, unifying theme"—is important, in that it gives a lot of writers the opportunity to flex their muscles, find their voice, and regularly practice their craft. For that alone, they are to be commended.