Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FRINGE: Two Sizes Too Small

Jessica Kane has a great idea for a short story, but she can't write dialogue. So why oh why has she directed Two Sizes Too Small as a radio play? It's ironic that things start with Paul (John Wernke) trying to squeeze his feet into all of the shoes in his house--for Kane shoehorns in many unneeded effects, from Scott Paulson's barely-there Foley effects to Joe McGinty's character themes (for piano), which overscore an already overwritten script. The meat of the story remains the undiagnosable shrinkage of everything around Paul, and how others react to this--and there is something both creepy and charming about the way in which "normal" takes on a new meaning as his mother (Lorraine Serabian) and girlfriend (Minna Taylor, who tries her best) go about painting new clothes onto his body. It's harder to understand the inclusion of a rather flat-footed Eric Purcell as a quack doctor--save that Kane wants the mother to have a wacky love interest. It's also unclear why Paul's irrelevant co-worker Larry (Scott Janes) didn't wind up on the cutting floor. The fumbling performances--unforgivable, considering they've got scripts in front of them--aren't the biggest problem, though, nor is the smallness of their characters. Instead, it's the pedantic dialogue, which relies on the pejorative "Jesus!" to save them from all of their problems. Characters resort to summarizing their action--there's already a narrator for that (Michael Douglass)--and go about explaining their feelings, which makes the play drag, instead of sprinting with the urgency it pretends to have. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "Watch out for tetanus," and 5 being "Usain Bolt can't touch this," Two Sizes Too Small gets a 1.5.

6 comments:

David said...

This guy is off the wall. The play, Two Sizes Too Small, is great. Maybe he just had his period or something.

elaine said...

The review from nytheatre.com is much more accurate as far as I'm concerned.

FringeNYC 2010 Festival Review
TWO SIZES TOO SMALL
nytheatre.com review
Jack Hanley · August 13, 2010

Jessica Kane has done something marvelous. Inside her briskly paced, robust comedy she weaves a provocative meditation on the nature of freedom. From her absurdist plotting emerges an insightful metaphor of an individual resisting a pre-programmed way of life. Comparisons can surely be made to Ionesco's work, but Kane writes and directs with a post-millennial optimism that is all her own.

The premise of Two Sizes Too Small is simple: Paul, a young, successful stockbroker, wakes up one morning to find that all of his shoes have shrunk. Panicked and unable to leave his apartment he reluctantly tells his intrusive and badgering mother. She rushes to his apartment with a pair of size 16 shoes in hand. The shoes don't fit. She assures him she'll solve the problem and get things back to normal. After several more failed attempts to squeeze him into shoes, she calls for a doctor (who may just play one on TV) to diagnose Paul. But as the play progresses his problem gets bigger than shoes.

The tremendous Eric Purcell, playing the doctor, summons (with tongue securely in cheek) the affected, self-important tone of any given doctor from a 1970s soap opera. It's refreshingly kooky. He has some of the most surreal lines of the play, and gives each one an unnervingly funny gravitas.

Kane has staged the production as a radio play, but gleefully and effectively abandons strict rules for such a staging. The actors directly address each other from behind four reading stands. Sometimes they mime their actions; sometimes they physically interact. In lesser hands these moments could have muddied the atmosphere of a radio play; instead they adorn it. Michael Douglas narrates beautifully; his mellifluous reading enhances the interplay of the characters and never distracts.

Performances are stylized in the vein of a Charles Ludlum send-up of a classic B-movie. Lorraine Serabian playing the mother and Minna Taylor playing Marylin (Paul's girlfriend) commit to the camp with heart and soul and a wink. Taylor is an exciting actor to behold. She delivers Kane's smart, offbeat language with precision and fervor. And as she makes us laugh she simultaneously conveys her sincere romance with Paul.

Serabian creates a fabulous car-wreck of a mother, and though she's given some jokes that don't land, you can't take your eyes off her. When she dares to take off her beloved heels in a show of camaraderie with her barefoot son, she devolves into a savage humanoid, snarling and grunting. It's one of the many charmingly demented moments that serve as a biting critique of the small ways we are unconsciously restrained.

John Wernke as Paul plays his part generously, allowing us to be with him in the midst of his crisis of identity. Kane smartly pulls him back from the camp. He is the anchor for the audience, allowing us the space between the laughter to absorb the philosophical notions at the heart of the story.

When the play ended, and I left the theatre with my companion, I was surprised by the discussion we were having. After all the laughter the play brought us, we weren't talking about the humor. Instead we were debating the notion of freedom, whether it is simply a hard-wired emotion akin to happiness, or if it is a rational state of mind that comes by choice. Not since last year's Broadway production of Exit the King have I laughed throughout a play, and then found myself engaged in heated dialectic. I think that is the strongest compliment I can give to Kane's work. And it well deserves it.

Aaron Riccio said...

David, Elaine, I'm glad you enjoyed Jessica's play, though we clearly disagree. I do wish you hadn't reposted the entirety of another person's review on my site--in the future, I'd recommend just linking to it, so that they still get the traffic to their site that they deserve.

Now, I'm trusting that neither of you have any connection to the play, especially you, David, since you've decided to come after my character, so I'll just add this: if the "camp" were working--and they seem to be approaching the play too seriously for it to even be camp--there'd be no need for Kane to "smartly pull him back" from it. (And really, he's the most hysterical--as in manic--actor of the bunch; his girlfriend is the one who remains calm and collected.)

Rick said...

Lovely story-telling, nicely told. I liked this play a lot. I always got 'those-bad-type-of-chills' when performances were labeled as "camp". The chills always resulted from the skeeviness of the person that enjoyed the expression, and never from performance in question. I'm sure I have missed the point, but the play was fantastic and fun.

Aaron Riccio said...

Rick, I don't think you've missed the point. Everybody is looking for something different in their plays, and if it worked for you, then it worked. I still think the story would fit more naturally to the page than the stage, but then again, I've heard through the grapevine that the performances have improved--and there is a strong market for audio-books and Selected Shorts-type work.

Rick said...

I liked it just on it's merits as a radio play. It's a form that should never have been abandoned, but when entertainment industry is so fiercely pushed by prevailing money everything geniune suffers.

Two Sizes Too Small is radio play.
It is a great modern example of this charming and long-neglected form. The staging was minimal for theatre, and rightly so. I applaud her adaptability. I admire her stoty telling. She's doing great stuff which I think is uniquely her own.