Can't Get Started
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
March 8, 2007
Late in Tom X. Chao's comedy, Can't Get Started, a spunky young actress named Sarah tells her colleague Tom, a sad sack playwright, "You've got an intense persecution complex." Does he ever. After 28 years of lonely singlehood, Tom still can't find a girlfriend, which, according to him, is all their fault. Women refuse to accept him as he is—idiosyncratic New York playwright, fan of King Crimson, and player of video games—without wanting to change or judge him, and he's terribly down because of it. Did I mention that Chao's protagonist is named after him, right down to the distinctive middle initial?
I don't know what similarities exist between Chao and his "fictional" alter-ego, but I can say that Can't Get Started feels very much like the work of a frustrated soul. This comic two-hander pits Tom against Sarah in a semi-surreal match of wits and attitudes. He wants understanding (and maybe a date), and she wants a decent part. They're ostensibly rehearsing a play of his, but Sarah's call for script revisions quickly turns into a conversation about Tom's pathetic love life. Over the course of an hour they address both their concerns in a variety of role-playing exercises and writing/performance styles: sci-fi, puppetry, Elizabethan tragedy, and rap music. Some of it works, and some of it doesn't, but Can't Get Started never feels like anything less than one man's sincere attempt to get to the bottom of an endless conundrum.
Chao's play could be charmingly quirky in the right hands. Alas, it is underserved by director Dave Dawson, who keeps the production so casual that it feels under-rehearsed. Anne Wyman is cute as Sarah, but lacks the urgency to make her credible. Jayson McDonald, on the other hand, is endearingly tortured as Tom, and gives Can't Get Started the oddball jolt it needs.
At one point in the play, Sarah accuses Tom of being an elitist who hates the audience even more than he hates actors. Can't Get Started is a more generous piece than that, but Dawson's lackadaisical direction makes it feel like he, at least, feels that way.