One doesn't know itself; the other knows nothing new.
By: CHRISTOPHER BYRNE
ANIMALS OUT OF PAPER
2612 Broadway at 99th St.
Tues.-Sat. at 8 p.m.;
Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.;
Sun. at 3 p.m.
New World Stages
340 W. 50th St.
Mon.-Sat. at 8 p.m.;
Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.;
Sun. at 3 p.m.
Rajiv Joseph's “Animals Out of Paper” really should be a play. “A” play, as in a singular, thematically consistent work. Instead, it's a sloppy mess of dramaturgy, with ideas and plot points unfolding willy-nilly and left half done on the floor. Is this a play about arts as a gift versus a discipline? Is this a play about recovering from a shattered relationship and awakening to one's soul? Is it about finding one's voice as an artist and a person?
Over the long first act, it tries to be each of these things, and then in the second, settles down rather awkwardly into a piece about an inappropriate relationship between an older woman, who is a world renowned origami artist, and the high school senior she is mentoring.
At the end the story just sort of stops, and we're left two hours later with nothing to show for it but a mild sense of annoyance and origami instructions we can take home from the lobby.
But mostly, one is left with questions about what motivated these characters in the first place, and why would we be interested in watching them. Giovanna Sardelli directs with intensity, but it is misspent, because it feels like the characters move from eruption to eruption with no logic. Still, if there is redemption to be found, it's in the casting.
Utkarsh Ambudkar plays Suresh, the student. Though he starts out way too juvenile, by the end of the play Ambudkar exhibits an understated maturity that's interesting. Kellie Overbey plays Ilana, the origami artist. Ironically, while the emotional underpinnings of her character are never explained, Overbey is a pleasure to watch, as is Jeremy Shamos as Andy, Suresh's teacher, an origami fan who falls in love with Ilana. His role strains credibility, but Shamos has a wonderful warmth that cushions the irritation.
The big insight of the piece, “folds leave scars,” is so obvious and labored that rolling the eyes is the only appropriate response. But this isn't a wholly painful evening. This play just doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up.
“Flamingo Court” is the kind of toxic atrocity that every so often is foisted on the theatergoing public and called entertainment. The formula is always the same — take one or two actors well past their prime (if not from the “Oh, I thought he or she was dead” file) and write a script that pokes fun at the infirmities and indignities of aging. Wrap it all up with obvious, juvenile jokes and spend thousands on a TV commercial that sets the teeth of any marginally intelligent creature on edge and there you go.
Yet wretched and insufferable as these plays are (“Bermuda Avenue Triangle,” “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” and “Queens Boulevard” leap to mind.), none sunk to the depths of “Falmingo Court,” Luigi Creatore's “comedy in three condos,” an evening comprised of three playets that deal with sex among the septuagenarians, the lighter side of Alzheimer's disease, and the presumed delight of getting even with one's children by tormenting them after death.
This is writing riddled with predictable fart jokes, erectile dysfunction gags, and all kinds of interpersonal bitterness trying to pass itself off as humor – the staple of the second rate sitcom.
Even forgetting for the moment that Neil Simon mined this three-act conceit with a great deal more wit and real humor in “Plaza Suite,” Creatore's play is remarkable for its lack of originality, its ponderous exposition, and scenes that exist only to get to a punch line – generally a completely predictable one at that. The structure and writing are hackneyed, full of flaccid pseudo-comedy and, worse, the persistent demeaning of senior citizens through stereotype. I'm sorry, but I just wasn't tickled by an 89-year-old man engaging a similarly superannuated prostitute.
Of course, all bets are off when something is legitimately funny, as the late Estelle Getty proved every week on “The Golden Girls.” Old age is not a minstrel show, and the downside of comedy that fails so utterly is that it becomes not merely humiliating, but smacks of hostility.
Director Steven Yuhasz exhausted himself in wringing every ounce of tedium out of the script. The production is amateurish, comparing unfavorably even to dinner theater or cruise ship entertainment. There isn't a human moment on Flamingo Court, and while the middle play about Clara, a woman about to be shipped off to a home because her husband can no longer care for her, wants to be serious, the leaden pacing and shallowness of the characters undermine what's meant to be shocking, becoming merely manipulative.
TV's Jamie Farr has never been an actor. He is a “personality,” trading exclusively on his erstwhile charm and his role on “M*A*S*H,” seeming to think that simply showing up will allow him to put over the show. It does not. The nuances of his performance extend to a false moustache and a silly walk, and that's about as deep as it gets. Anita Gillette is instantly forgettable in her three roles, but then she's been given virtually nothing to work with and remains undirected.
As one enters the theater, a young man encourages the audience buy drinks. “You can take them to your seats!” he says. I guess if one is to be force-fed this desiccated turkey, perhaps liberal servings of alcohol are the only way to get it to go down.