Thursday, April 12, 2007

PLAY: "Topsy Turvy Mouse"

Topsy Turvy Mouse is a show in development through the Cherry Lane Mentor Project, which I greatly admire and respect, so please take the following with a grain of industrial salt. Peter Gil-Sheridan's script, which has apparently won a few awards that I've never heard of, appears to have been selected because of its political edge: the play fast-forwards fifteen years into the future so that we can see what has happened to the two smiling soldiers of the now infamous Abu Ghraib pictures. However, that idea has no teeth, and the problem with the play is that there isn't a single thing in it that's topsy, or turvy. It's just quiet, like a mouse.

Daniella Topol, who directed the beautiful Dead City last year, manages to work in the way in which two isolated, confused children find solace in imitating the pictures, with their cheerful, bubbling mirth a nice contrast to the stark pictures projected, as a parallel, behind them. It's too bad the kids (Daniel Zaitchik and Ian Quinlan) are stuck running around in circles, and that talented actors like Kelly McAndrew are stuck playing over-emotive parents. The show is stolen by a single monologue, delivered by a sub-plot's mother (Rosalyn Coleman), and for all that it connects to the rest of the play, she might as well have just walked in from another show, in another theater, across the street, to have done this part.

Right now, the play is too much like the game Richie tries to play with Darla at the beginning of the show: a vague attempt to connect the dots between stark photos (or scenes) that are very different in tone, time, and texture. But all Gil-Sheridan has to do is take his own character's advice: "You have to change things to be able to tell a story." I'm looking forward to when he gets away from the melodrama of "people with issues" and starts unraveling the tension between Richie and his criminal parents (he'll have to rework Amit's stereotypical Indian mother, Una, too): the world needs more "why" plays, not more "because" plays. Right now, Michael Weller's mentoring isn't apparent, but if Gil-Sheridan figures out how to tell this story soon, it could really be something.

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