Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends

[Reviewed for Show Business Weekly]

Matt (Todd D’Amour) isn’t the guy who has no friends; he’s the guy who, hating small talk, suddenly realizes that he hates all of his friends. Celia (Carrie Keranen) isn’t the queen bee of a literal cult of personality, The Friends; she’s the girl who, desiring to be alone, makes everyone desire her. It’s only natural that these two should fall in terrifically dysfunctional love in Larry Kunofsky’s new play, What to Do When You Hate All Your Friends. And even though the play isn’t nearly as antisocial as it bills itself, it’s a charismatically winning parable.

That story is presented by Enid (Amy Staats), a “lower-case-F friend” who swims between being a tentative character and the tenacious narrator, often delightfully blurring the line. (“I’m not here. Just act like I’m not here.”) This comic device immediately justifies the quirks of the drama, but also turns the so-called “impersonal” attitudes into some very personal scenes, coming off as a cross between a Kelly Link short story and a Sarah Ruhl drama. Director Jacob Krueger wisely roots things more in the realistic than the magical, but leaves himself the room for cartoon-like effects (as when characters pop their heads out from a wall) and image-heavy metaphors (like the slow-motion, sandwich-eating conclusion).

None of this would matter, of course, if the cast weren’t so loveable. They go about making everything anti-antisocial, from Susan Louise O’Connor’s cute breakdowns in a variety of roles to Josh Lefkowitz’s full-circle turns from playing an easygoing square to an attention-starved lawyer. D’Amour, always a physically confident actor (he’s built for Shepard and Williams), turns that muscle to comedy: his grand mal seizure of a bear hug draws the biggest laughs of the night. Meanwhile, Keranen matches him by channeling a husky intensity beneath her fragile exterior: an anonymous yet mutual masturbation session comes across as Sesame Street Gone Wild. Staats, however, steals the show. Her specific yet fluttery actions are more representative of Kunofsky’s message than anything else: a genuine love that is destined to never come together.

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