nytheatre.com review by Russell M. Kaplan
January 15, 2010
Michael Aronov is a gifted character actor and knows it. His one-man show Manigma is crafted to display his extensive bag of tricks as he inhabits six vastly different and more-or-less unrelated roles. Yes, it's a bit self-indulgent, but it's not at all arrogant, and fortunately writer/star Aronov has the talent and charisma to pull it off.
Michael enters a stage preset with six distinct props, and methodically allows himself to be possessed by a new character each time he picks one up: the feather boa turns him into a drag queen, the weight belt a Russian bodybuilder, a stack of books for a man in prison. Supported by David Travis's clear and quiet direction, Aronov dives right into these people with inspiring vigor, each time adopting an entirely new linguistic and physical vocabulary. I'm pretty convinced that there's no role—or at least no TYPE of role—he can't play.
Aronov the writer, while pretty good, is not at the same level as Aronov the actor. The characters he has created are certainly diverse, but some have been drawn with noticeably more specificity and emotional empathy than others. They're all engaging personas, but only occasionally is the script infused with real drama, and I suspect that in another actor's hands the material wouldn't hold up. Then again, Aronov probably wants us to believe nobody else could play these roles, so maybe that's a good thing. I can't decide.
The press materials for Manigma claim that these characters represent six elements of Aronov's own personality. That theme did not register for me in performance, but in hindsight it explains a lot of what was lacking for me. Aronov is a fearless actor, but as a writer he has played it safe, giving himself material that falls within his emotional comfort zone, and which focuses more on his characters' quirks than their real human struggles. His is a talent to be reckoned with, and Manigma is an enjoyable showcase for it. But he'll be an even more admirable talent when he allows the play itself to be more important than his performance in it.