Wednesday, February 09, 2011

THEATER: Laws of Motion

Photo/Michael Mahoney
It's the unscheduled delay on the local train that convinces Christopher (Gregg Mozgala) to fake a sneeze, hoping to catch the eye of the pretty girl, Anna (Sara Buffamanti) sitting next to him. But when Ashlin Halfnight's Laws of Motion cuts away from their twee romance -- he, a burgeoning writer with a dark imagination who is trapped working at Kinkos; she, a self-proclaimed scribefucker who says she works as a glassblower (but whose loud outfit and appointment book suggest she's blowing something else) -- it's the cardinal law of theater that these new threads are somehow going to tie into the plot. The result, which relies on a narrative trick for its dramatic punch, is a little too familiar and overwrought, but it is at least finely directed by Kristjan Thor, who uses the trick of placing multiple scenes in the same plane (but not the same place) and the reconfiguration of the shared set into unique signifiers for each couple, to show how we are all at once connected and separate.

Among the three additional plots speeding through Laws of Motion are the tales of a failing marriage between Markus (Daniel Piper Kublick) and Bella (Sarah Matthay), and the redefined relationship between Carlo (Joseph Gallina) and his ex-wife, the brassy Lonnie (Gisela Chipe), who are working through their own issues for the sake of their rebelling teenage daughter, Sammy: these love-lost relationships at least serve as a counterbalance to the burgeoning romance between Christopher and Anna. But it's harder to fit the spoiled rich Jolene (Jessica Cummings) and her cousin Dominic (Matthew Pilieci) into the plot. Dominic's simply there to be a shoulder to cry on (and expositionally talk into), and given the stated conventions of the play, savvy viewers will quickly realize (and grow impatient) that the tragedy that has reduced Jo to coke binges and "therapeutic" S&M sessions with Mistress Fiona (an unconvincing, but sweet, Amy Newhall) must have something to do with the unspecified train delay that opened the play. Going off on further diluted tangents are Markus's colleague, Cooper (Jason Alazraki), an overconfident asshole of the Mamet variety, and Gordon (Michael Criscuolo), an angry Kinko's patron. Like Fiona and Dominic, these characters are inert; wheels which serve to spin the other characters -- and needlessly so, given the play's final destination.

Pared down, Laws of Motion offers glimpses of the slick mechanism that has surely guided so many of Halfnight's other plays. The loss of a child has made it difficult for Bella to forgive her husband Markus, but their attempts to overcome that impenetrable wall make for compelling theater, the sort with clear obstacles that force their characters to grow. Comparatively, the Lonnie/Carlo scenes lack urgency and the Jo scenes lack agency; with nothing to fight for, even solid actors like Chipe and Pilieci wind up stuck in a rut. You may go for Buffamanti's wide-eyed charm and Kublick's solid desperation, but there's no law that says you can't miss this one.

No comments: