Monday, June 16, 2008

Standing Clear

Photo/Kemachat Sirichanvimol

Standing Clear
, a new group comedy from the Coffee Cup theater company, has a very simple message: our anonymous city is a hotbed of comedy, you just have to take off the iPod long enough to listen, put down the book long enough to look. But while that's true of the actual subway, it's sadly not the case with this random assemblage of "stops" (scenes). For all that material, the show is rarely even skin deep: that's worse than an episode of MADtv. It's rather telling that Ishah Janssen-Faith and Jack McGowan, the two actors credited with writing the show (with additional material from the cast), choose to play almost identically annoying busybodies: they're after cheap laughs.

Really cheap laughs: apparently, when Melinda Ferraraccio is alone on subway cars, she performs pole dances. Ben Holbrook seems to think that anxious businessmen can be summed up entirely by repeating the phrase "Oh no" and refusing to interact with the world around him. Becca Hackett isn't even interested in the actual subway: her characters mostly break into dance as a means of expressing their loneliness. A crowded rush hour segment (set to The Police's "Don't Stand So Close To Me"), already funny and creative enough, gets a drag queen for emphasis; two Austrian tourists--their giant cardboard backpacks hilarious in of themselves--don't just bump into people, they purposely smack into them, like malicious little pinballs. Worse are the recurring characters: annoying the first time, they're torturous the second. These characters aren't deep enough to merit an attempt at resolution--especially when that resolution comes in the form of yet another cheap joke. (The exception that proves this rule: Holbrook's exaggeratedly crazy homeless man is given a present by a kindly woman and he later returns the favor by scaring off a man who sexually harasses her.)

The only reason Standing Clear is running at all is on account of Barbara Kerger's conducting. Though the individual scenes are still gratingly empty (much like a train late at night), she uses the space creatively when there's an entire group. At the opening, she turns the focus onto us: how the cast might imagine we look on the train. By the middle, the action is internalized: one by one, each actor listens to an excerpt from their iPod while the rest of the cast acts out what that person might be seeing. The play concludes by breaking down those characters, with the actors switching props and positions as they show just how seamless the anonymity is: in a train, as in life, we can be any character, depending on who's watching.

Still, had there been an emergency brake, I would have pulled it. To have to sit there, watching all that potential go to waste . . . that made made me a sick passenger.

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