Sunday, February 18, 2007

PLAY: "Cycle"

(Photo Courtesy/Martine Malle)

Once we get past the premise and the wheels start turning, Cycle is a luscious, enjoyable show. Using the hodgepodge of theatrical devices present in vaudeville, we get a play that staves off depression with everything from one-liners to tap dance, accompaniment on the violin as well as the accordion, not to mention a bevvy of accents, characters, and exuberant performances from a magnificent ensemble cast. (Special notice for the standout performances of Sarah Hund and J.T. Arbogast, two wonderfully delicious hams without a dead moment between them.) Occasionally, the plot seems like a shallow excuse to showcase another scene bursting at the seam with outsized humor, but it's overflowing with good cheer, and as with Jell-o, there's always room for more laughs.

The story revolves around a group of god-like performers who have, as of late, faded into obscurity. They drop their juggling balls, they hit their steps out of sync, and their troupe is forever showing up late for their shows. To change that, their leader, Morris, has gambled their entire existence on one final performance: a last-ditch intervention in the life of Charlotte Shrubsole, a bland and depressed young woman on the verge of ending her life. Their plan is to play a wide variety of characters, each of whom will help lead Charlotte closer toward finding The Secret of Success. It's complicated for the first twenty minutes, but director Craig Carlisle cleans things up by the tme Charlotte first gets on her shiny red bike, and the rest of the 90-minute show leaps from character to character, joke to joke.

In her whirligig day, Charlotte travels the show-business circuit, along with all the usual stereotypes of the field. In vaudeville, the cliche is transformed into a bigger and better joke, and so the self-obssessed agent, the blank mobs of auditioners and producers, the yoga-like singing instructor, a photographer who likes to growl and use handcuffs . . . it's all good fun. For anyone who's ever taken a voice class, the scene with the acting coach may be the only part of the show that's a little too realistic: "Become the chicken--that is, let the chicken become you."

The pantomime never tires, and the actors never seem to flag. Rose Courtney's script finds its way to a bittersweet ending, and while we never learn the one true secret of success, the show is a success on its own fanciful merits.

[First posted to New Theater Corps, 2/17]

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