Big Thick Rod
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 11, 2008
Stanton Wood's dark comedy, Big Thick Rod, begins and ends with a business transaction. Not quite what one expects from a play that features a sexually insatiable wood nymph and her well-endowed handyman. Then again there's nothing predictable about Wood's script—which views all couplings as exploitative business partnerships—or the entertaining streamlined production it gets from Rabbit Hole Ensemble. Director Edward Elefterion employs his trademark minimalist style to great effect, emphasizing the play's themes with little more than Avery Lewis's simple yet evocative light design and a uniformly excellent cast, and comes up with a production that enhances the script's inherent theatricality while cruising along at warp speed.
The trouble begins when Elmer, an uptight lawyer, tells his new bride, Cricket, that they'll have to scale back their current level of sexual activity (approximately 8-9 times a day) to something more manageable (like once a month). Since she's a mythical nymph from the forest, whose charismatic appeal is linked to her voracious sexual appetite, this doesn't sit well with her. So she hires both a kindly gardener, Jerome, and the title character, a wood-chopping he-man who dreams of being a gigolo, to service her. When Elmer catches wind of Cricket's escapades, he cuts off her spending allowance and tells her to have sex like everybody else does—for free. She replies, "I can't ask people to screw me for a hobby. It's a full-time job." Faced with the prospect of impending celibacy, Cricket comes up with a unique solution that starts even more trouble. To say more would ruin Big Thick Rod's many surprises.
As mentioned before, Wood creates a world governed by exploitation and contracts. Elmer tells Cricket right at the start, "Marriage is a contract...It's a legal procedure." Such an outlook would be quite caustic if the play weren't so funny. Wood's keen sense of humor tempers the play's darker undertones and makes them go down smooth. When Elmer urges Cricket to join the law firm's book club, she asks if (and how often) they have sex. "It's a book club, not an orgy," he tells her. Later, after his patience has been tried to the limit, Elmer tells Cricket that she makes "Caligula look like Mister Rogers!" Another character who inexplicably grows a third arm (yep, you read that correctly) laments, "I look like I'm permanently asking for change." Bon mots like those are strewn throughout Big Thick Rod.
The cast does a terrific job putting this material over by playing it totally straight. To single anyone out would be pointless since all the actors are terrific. So let me just say that the show's five-person cast—Arthur Aulisi (Elmer), Matt W. Cody (Big Thick Rod), Tatiana Gomberg (Cricket), Emily Hartford (Burgermeister, a gender-ambiguous businessperson), and Dan Ajl Kitrosser (Jerome)—is giving one of the best ensemble performances in town right now and you should go see them do it.