nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
August 15, 2009
Playwright Mac Rogers and director Jordana Williams return to FringeNYC having won two overall excellence awards for past collaborations (Hail, Satan! and Fleet Week). Not surprisingly, their newest production is a dynamic, fun, and perceptive comedy. What is surprising is the subject of the show—the minority (we hope) of people whose only method to achieve sexual arousal is to watch someone peacefully die.
Rogers brings you into the world of VIRAL with a hilarious online chat between members of said minority and a desperate woman seeking a painless way to kill herself. They run a website posing as a suicide hotline and receive an alert that someone is browsing. The dunces of the group, Geena and Jarvis, risk driving her away, but their obsessive-compulsive leader Colin is able to lure her to their dank apartment for "counseling." Their cover as a support group is shortly blown and they are forced to be honest. Here Rogers reveals there is more to this show than just smart dialogue and bizarre situations by giving voice to the group's loneliness.
Colin explains their attraction is not to violence or gore but to the soft details of one's passing. A chest rising, falling, and finally stopping. The brow relaxing. The skin changing color. Colin questions, "Since you're already planning on taking your own life, and nothing can stop you, there's something you can do that will make a lot of lonely people very happy [sic]."
The next week is spent preparing to film her death with the ultimate goal of distribution. Tall, glamorous, and brutal in her sadness, they view her as their golden ticket. Unfortunately there are kinks. Colin has an uncompromising artistic vision. Jarvis is an idiot obliged to run offstage every few minutes (sorry, no spoilers here why...). Geena sparks a friendship with their subject that could potentially give her a reason to live. And when at last their distributor arrives, he offers an ultimatum that alters everyone's feelings about the project.
Rogers's script provides plenty of laughs as well as poignant moments of reflection. The overall message I took away from it is self-realization—ironic for a play based around suicide. One subplot I wish had been explored in greater detail was the mysterious history of siblings Geena and Jarvis.
Director Jordana Williams crafts a nuanced, surprising story. She has built upon a solid script and emerged with one of the most cohesive productions I have seen come out of FringeNYC.
The cast proves adept at both the comedy and the dramatic moments; each has his or her niche and plays it to perfection. Amy Lynn Stewart as Meredith (the subject) embodies a haunting sadness that gives rise to an explosion late in the play. Even during long stretches with no dialogue, she is magnetic. Rebecca Comtois (Geena) has great comedic chops and an impressive subtlety with the emotional moments. Matthew Trumbull (Jarvis) is a skilled comedic actor, somehow seamlessly weaving bizarre physicality into this naturalistic piece to great effect. Kent Meister (Colin) is perfectly cast in this role and steadily drives the action for most of the play. Lastly, Jonathan Pereira as Snow, the distributor, is a dynamic performer who at once drives the comedic timing and responds truthfully to the group.
The design elements are used well. Set design by Sandy Yaklin establishes the scene well but I would have liked to have seen some items strewn around to portray the "crappiness" of the apartment. Sound design by Dana Rossi provides valuable comedic moments. Lighting by Dan Gallagher and costumes are also great.