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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review- The Most Damaging Wound (The Production Company)

The Fab Marquee review by Dianna Martin.

Many of us are often amazed when we are reminded at how much time has gone by (while being shocked at how it seems like just yesterday) since we were back in our college days: when our 30's and 40's seemed like some far-off idea, when we were struggling with our identities and oftentimes made many mistakes that we wish we could take back...and promises made back then to ourselves - and others - were ones that we thought we could keep until major life changes or just "growing up" reminds us that not all of those promises and dreams come true.

Michael Szeles (Alan), Ken Matthews (Kenny) and Michael Solomon (GG)
photo credit: Deanna R. Frieman
The Production Company's The Most Damaging Wound, directed by Mark Armstrong, is an compelling tale about five men who were the best of friends in college who have come together again to celebrate Kenny's (Ken Matthews) new fatherhood and, at Kenny's request, perform a male bonding ceremony of sorts involving setting fire to a box of memories: photos and knick-knacks in a cardboard box that has been saved with great care over the years.

At the top of the play, we are introduced to Kenny, Alan (Michael Szeles), and GG (Michael Solomon) who are attempting to drink shots of J├Ągermeister in rapid succession, despite the taste (even Kenny admits how much he hates the taste of it) as they gear up for a night of unabashed drunken partying in an attempt to re-live their college years. One main difference between now and when they were back at college is that they are now in the lounge area of what will be GG's new restaurant he runs with his brother (that he admits later his parents bought for them) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan instead of in a college dorm room. GG sports a bar towel on his shoulder, a sign of his new life as a restaurant owner, and is constantly cleaning up after his friends and complaining about it. Alan, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, is still in his suit and relatively disheveled tie, pouring drinks. As they toast Kenny on his new life as a father, the dialogue travels between Kenny waxing sentimental about how he wants to be a better father than his bum dad was to him, to the other guys making jokes lamenting that it all went downhill once they began dating "girls that could read." Although said partially in jest, it's a comment that sets the tone for where many of these men are still at emotionally.

Then the others begin to arrive: Dicky (Chris Thorn), who seems perfectly happy being a carpet salesman working for his Dad, but whose drinking tells another tale; Bo (Bard Goodrich), the once professional musician of the group who is working his way through his 12 step program as he cares for his invalid father, and who is openly gay and comfortable with his friends about it (which, considering how immature some of these men are, I found hard to believe at first); and Christine (Megan McQuillan)...who is unexpected at this gathering, being the married woman who is having an affair with Alan, who is also married, not realizing that showing up early to meet him for a late-night tryst might not be the best idea since the party is supposed to be just for men.

Megan Mcquillan (Christine), Michael Solomon (GG), Michael Szeles (Alan) and Bard Goodrich (Bo)
photo credit: Deanna R. Frieman
Of course, all of the characters are flawed. None of them, with the exception of maybe Bo and Kenny have grown up at all or come to terms with their most of their issues. But unfortunately, those are the two who have stories that we barely skim the surface of. And the only woman in the midst is one who is seriously asking Alan if he'll leave his wife for her...so the only outsider of this group is also incredibly out of touch with reality. However, it is the flaws in these characters that make them so realistic because we as humans are flawed characters to begin with. I doubt if any theatre-goer would walk into a production about a group of college friends putting demons to rest while trying to cross the threshold of adulthood and expect any of the characters on stage to really have their act together...because who does in real life?

This brings me to the script itself. For the most part I enjoyed it, the idea is believable, and some of the characters are endearing despite themselves: one of the characters that you would have assumed to be homophobic due to his testosterone-laden/alcohol-soaked brain is actually devastated over the loss of the friendship that he had with Bo and wants to know why he got ignored after school was over; one character admits to feeling like the fifth wheel, never really getting the intimacy that he felt the other two pairs of friends had. The affair between the married couple is sad and real and tragic - but like most of the script, there is nothing really new here.

Indeed one can argue that "all theatre has been done before!" but I felt that in this situation very little was actually achieved for the characters. Many of them learned new things about themselves and the others, but whatever insight they obtained throughout the evening, it did not see that most of them were going to make use of it. That might have been the point that playwright Blair Singer was making, and in doing so, making a statement on the irony of it all. If that is the case, it is valid. However, the play itself contradicts that validity, for it ends with a neat little bow, everyone smiling and happy as they go out into the chilly November night, and I really felt that it was just wrapped up too nicely for my taste. I also felt that there was WAY too much singing - it was great to involve the music in the play, but to play a whole song... it felt literally like the playwright and/or the director was filling in gaps of space where he thought somehow their bonding would be shown through all of them singing around the proverbial campfire, so he chose to have them all drunkenly sing an entire Indigo Girls song (which is a great band, but that's not the point). This wasn't supposed to be a musical.

Michael Szeles (Alan), Ken Matthews (Kenny), Chris Thorn (Dicky),
Bard Goodrich (Bo) and Michael Solomon (GG)
photo credit: Deanna R. Frieman

Some well-written good points are that the dialogue is often witty banter back and forth between the characters, and the characters each have their own style: some were quiet or almost monk-like, while others had rapid-fire obscenities and toilet humor that I actually enjoyed because it was wasn't too over-the-top and reminded me of people I know (and was how many people talk)...and it was also intermingled with people trying to have honest conversations with each other when they often couldn't be honest with themselves.

I felt what really saved this play was the wonderful acting done by the ensemble as a whole. There were times when I felt that the dialogue was a re-hash of another play or novel, but it didn't matter because the actors were really dealing with each other on stage. It was perhaps some of the best ensemble group acting I have seen in a while. It wasn't without it's problems: I felt Solomon did not make use of all the levels the character has until towards the end of the play; making all the fun dialogue he has become somewhat stale due to his constant scowl and not knowing what to do with his barman's towel. Szeles and McQuillan's affair I believed; I also believed that she loved him. I didn't buy his love for her, which he even confesses to Kenny, who is supposed to be his best friend. So, I am still at a loss as to whether or not he really did love her - but maybe that's the point. Goodrich's interpretation of Bo was likable, but I felt the actor could have put himself out on more of a limb emotionally - I didn't feel like he was as invested in the moments as he could have been, and here is where I think the director may have gotten in the way of one character we only get a glimpse of as it stands. I point these issues out because the acting as a whole was extremely enjoyable by all of the actors in the production, and I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't point out what irked me. That said, the direction was superb in that I felt that the movement of the actors was natural and not forced; I didn't see the director's hand moving the actors, which is always so ideal in a production and a joy to see (or not see, as the case may be).

The set designer (April Bartlett) should get kudos for an amazing job. The fight choreography needed to be tightened up - Bo's left jab seemed more like a tap, but the broken nose that Dicky has to deal with is so much fun that one quickly forgets such technicalities.

Overall, Singer's The Most Damaging Wound was enjoyable and watching the actors take their time with each other was really fantastic, as they worked their way through territory that was unfortunately familiar, but still unique enough to keep the audience - and this reviewer - pleased at having seen the show.

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The Production Company presents
Blair Singer's
The Most Damaging Wound
November 5-29, 2008 (Wed-Fri @8pm; Sat @3pm & 8pm)
Manhattan Theatre Source

Tickets are $20 and are now available online at www.theatermania.com or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information visit www.productioncompany.org

Manhattan Theatre Source | 177 MacDougal Street | Manhattan.

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