Saturday, November 05, 2011

THEATER: Two-Man Kidnapping Rule

Photo/Ryan Wijayaratne
Are you still reeling from your last relationship? Unable to find work? Stuck wearing a ridiculous reindeer sweater for the Christmas holidays? It sounds as if you need to bro it out with your best buds, head off to the clubs, find some available women, and bury your troubles in someone else for a while. If that sounds appealing, I recommend that you pick up your phone, hit up your friends, and do exactly that. You should only be checking out Joseph Gallo's Two-Man Kidnapping Rule if you want to play it safe, for this show is so filled with unfulfilled boasts and unearned morals that it has little room for anything real.

Jack (Curran Connor, acting and looking like an unfunny Adam Scott) is the bummed-out dude who kicks things off, dropping in on his old friend Vincent (Duane Cooper) -- not to hang out, but to complain about the latest and most final loss of the supposed love-of-his-life, Laura. Gallo states that the two have been friends since the ninth grade (both are now in their late twenties), largely because this isn't obvious from the chemistry between the two actors, who remain distanced from one another, even when crammed into a car. Cooper in particular seems uncomfortable with all the stereotypes Vincent is forced to fulfill as the man-child whose idea of friendship involves heavy ribbing, and who insists on dispensing relationship advice despite his inability to do anything but sleep with married women. (Think of the relationship between Barney and Ted on How I Met Your Mother, only, again, without the humor.) For instance: Jack is performing a one-man memory play as he sorts through his "ex-box" (a shoebox filled with memories from his time with Laura), when he stumbles across some nude photos of other women; Vincent confesses that he's been whacking off to these pictures and calls it his "holding fee." How . . . clever.

In any event, when Jack announces his intent to drive down from New Jersey to Texas to reunite with Laura, even though she's made it clear that she's marrying someone else, Vincent invokes an old rule from their childhood: the titular "two-man kidnapping rule," which allows any two members of the group to force a third member to do what they want, if it's in that third member's best interest. (You're free to debate whose best interest this play is in; the beloved New Ohio Theater seems determined to draw in a younger audience, regardless of the cost.) To do so, Vincent enlists the help of Seth (Andy Lutz, an exceptional cross between the manic Jesse Tyler Ferguson and dour Raul Esparza), and the three drive off to Bar Anticipation, to hook up with women. Never mind that the kidnapping rule seems a bit arbitrary when they allow the fourth member of their group, the soon-to-be-married Robbie, to beg off; Gallo is writing under a curtain of convenience, which is why Seth soon announces that he's also gotten engaged. It's one more thing for the wallowing romantic Jack and relationship-defiant Vincent to clash over. (This being a comedy about bros in their early adulthood, fists will be thrown at some point.)

Gallo has a few original moments of specificity in his play -- the term "mood dick," which deals with a specific sort of pee-shy person, or a sweet memory evoked by the image of the Pillsbury Doughboy -- but the vast majority of Two-Man Kidnapping Rule seems as if it's been snatched out of other contemporary comedies, largely sitcoms, which know better than to draw such shallow matters out over two hours. There are no stakes in the play, the catharsis is largely off-stage, and the resolutions are abrupt and unearned. Even were the show perfectly cast, it would drag: there are too many artificial situations for it to do otherwise. (Consider the arrival of a second Laura, who we never even meet; the sudden need to hit up a road-side ATM; and Jack's poor driving skills, which cause them to nearly hit a truck . . . twice!)

The most realistic portion of Two-Man Kidnapping Rule is the way director Robin A. Paterson has staged the driving that takes up half the play. Craig Lenti's sound design is dead-on, as is the pantomime from the actors that accompanies the turn signals, mirror-checking, and operation of windows and doors. Those moments seem completely natural, as if they've been ingrained in these people for years on end -- it's a shame that the decades-old friendship that is the centerpiece of the show isn't nearly as smooth.

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