nytheatre.com review by Todd Carlstrom
July 17, 2006
Michael Roderick's earnest one-act fantasy/drama Props, currently being produced by Small Pond Entertainment at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, anchors its dramatic tension to a metaphor. Romantic love, it maintains, is indistinguishable from the act of artistic creation. Fortunately for the production, Roderick's script makes powerful statements about how people pursue both of those ideals. Unfortunately, the story comes across as being less compelling than the ideas that drive it, leaving the viewer interested but not necessarily invested.
At first blush, Props seems like a sexually frustrated reworking of the Pinocchio story. Our ersatz Gepetto, Andrew, divides his energy between his work as a theatrical prop maker and the affections of four (yes, four) women: his controlling ex-girlfriend Susan; Denise, another former lover to whom he has made a reconciliatory overture; Melissa, his best friend who seems to want something more; and the life-sized female puppet, Kerri, who comes to life as he hammers her together in his workshop. Overworked and crazed with loneliness, Andrew must sort out his lingering feelings for both Susan and Denise while simultaneously sussing out whether Kerri is anything more than a figment of his imagination. The latter's habit of turning back into a puppet whenever anyone else walks into the room doesn't help Andrew's mental state.
Much of the show consists of arguments and failed seductions. The arguments repeatedly revisit events that happened before the action of the play, which is a bit off-putting. The interchanges between Andrew and his exes particularly lack chemistry, and some snatches of dialogue seem recycled from TV dating dramas. I repeatedly found myself wondering why these women persisted in their affections for such a cantankerous workaholic. A puppet coming to life that embodies all of the ideal traits our hero craves in a mate actually winds up as the most plausible of the four ladies' story arcs.
A huge explanation for the shallowness of the characters' relations eventually emerges during the show's climax, but by then it is too late for it to be appreciated on anything but an intellectual level. Director Moira K. Costigan mines the nuances of Roderick's metaphor well and does not shrink from following it to its furthest extremes. It is unfortunate that equal attention does not seem to have been paid to the interpersonal realities of the characters; the central message of the play—that great love engenders great art, which takes on a life of its own outside of the artist—would have rung truer had the production made me feel the ending rather than contemplate it.
Another questionable choice is the inclusion of several unnecessary dance sequences, which, though choreographed ably by Carla Fazio, illustrate interpersonal dynamics that are already established in dialogue.
Composer/performer William Demaniow's spare piano music is effective throughout, even more so when he underscores failed seductions with deliberate discord. Tim Cryan's lighting design makes the best of limited space, particularly for being part of a festival.
Among the actors, Corey Ann Haydu gets props (what else?) for imbuing Kerri with appealing spirit. Ben Sumrall falls short of capturing the darkness of the driven artist inside Andrew, but is more convincing in his lower-stakes scenes with Amy Lerner, who hints intriguingly at the longing behind Melissa's chummy banter.