Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
October 14, 2005
Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos is described as “Almost a Play” by its author, Roger Rosenblatt. From my point of view, it’s not a play at all; rather it’s a series of (mostly) delightful satiric sketches about a variety of anxiety-inducing topics such as aging, fame, falling in-and-out-of-love, and splotchy cellular reception in Manhattan.
I don’t need for Ashley Montana to be a “play,” actually—with the help of Jim Simpson’s fluid and inspired direction, and a droll cast that includes Bebe Neuwirth, Jeffrey DeMunn, Jenn Harris, and James Waterston, Rosenblatt’s work attains a kind of theatricality that many traditional plays do not.
The central image (projected on the upstage wall) is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition with the eponymous (and fictitious?) caption, “Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos,” prompting the four performers to inquire: “Who is Ashley Montana?” “Where are the Caicos?” “Is she escaping something?” “Why isn’t she wet?” etc. Near the end of the evening, they create a group story, round robin-style, to make sense of the more puzzling aspects of this cover story. That is my favorite part: watching the four of them, in constant, swirling motion, step in and out of characters as gracefully as they do the spotlight (in both senses of the phrase).
In between these two organizing events is a light, frisky meditation on grave themes. The more successful bits—a Good Morning, America-esque talk show with all the humanity of an amusement park ride; a bathroom commercial for the guilty capitalist; bootcamp-style soundbyte training for the press—are as thought-provoking as they are guffaw-inducing. Others are tame, cute, and sometimes a little passé, a good example being a torch song about trying to write a torch song about Ashcroft, but being unable to find a suitable rhyme for the name.
But said song, when sung by Bebe Neuwirth, inherits a wit that it might not otherwise possess. Like her voice, Neuwirth’s body language is as sharp as a straight razor; she and her fellow cast members command the stage in such a way that even the weaker sketches get some uproarious laughs. Jeffrey DeMunn is the mid-life-crisis man and whether he is diatribe-ing about death or being laid off due presumably to his age, there is a certain sweetness in his tone which, combined with his eagle-eyed watch over the audience, is oddly alluring. Deftly handling some staler bits—a Bush impersonation, among them—and triumphing with fresher ones—a Grim-Reaper-a-la-Caroline’s-Comedy-Club impression—James Waterston is a sexy goof. He and Jenn Harris (whose unrelentingly flat affect is somehow consistently engaging) hold their own in harmony with their more experienced counterparts.
Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos is smart, funny, and generous theatre. Neither aggressive with the jokes, nor heavy with the pathos, Rosenblatt, Simpson, and their stellar cast give us room to think and feel. And that’s more radical than you might suppose.