NY Theater Review by JK Clarke
Attention directors: if you want to irritate and alienate your audience the moment they walk into your theater, then have a couple of teenagers clanging around in the auditorium on noisy skateboards. That’s just what director Thom Fogarty did for 360repco’s production of Steven Fechter’s Lancelot, now playing at the Gym at Judson. And, certainly for many audience members, it worked. Which is too bad because, despite its enervating opening, Lancelot is an interesting play, which has nothing to do with skateboarding or the equally banal skate culture (thank goodness).
The scripted opening, in which Ryan (Stephen James Anthony) is giving a pep talk to the employees of United Goods of Oklahoma a week prior to the big November sales day, Black Friday, is quite intriguing. He is encouraging (and perhaps even lying to) his sales team to sell, sell, sell, telling them they’re the most successful group within the company for which they’ll be getting . . . free pizza! With a choice of three different toppings. Ryan seems happy, successful and enthusiastic about his life and work. As is his, girl, Tara (a dynamic and clever Lulu Fogarty), a cheery and enthusiastic gal, who loves her man and delights in his pep talks. She has a special surprise for him at her place tonight, she says, to go along with her special spaghetti and meatballs. But Ryan never makes it dinner that night because of an unexpected visitor from his past. It’s probably best not to give too many spoilers here, but Ryan’s visitor upended his life in his teenaged years and he has mixed reactions to her return. She may even change his life again.
The play’s central conflict is represented in the opposing characters of Ryan and the “Boy,” (Grant Riordon) who is Ryan as an early teen. Ryan has buried himself in the persona of a church-going middle manager, but inside him still is the Boy. And the longings and ambitions that boy once had still dwell, for “Rye” was a promising artist and an inveterate dreamer. The arrival of the mystery woman, Gina (Romy Nordlinger) stirs the Boy within, causing Ryan’s well-molded exterior to begin to wash away.
Having another actor play Ryan’s younger, libertine, inner-self is a clever device that should work very well. However, Riordon (the Boy) over-acts, putting on an exaggerated, gruff voice with surfer-kid bravado and an unlikely (adolescent) Justin Bieber hairdo. While Riordon is clearly a talented teen performer, director Fogarty does nothing to reel him in. The overdone voice and kinetic energy alter the impact of a character who’s supposed to be a sensitive, talented artist. In fact, when Anthony plays his younger self in a courtroom scene, he is appropriately demure, while Riordon plays the Defense Attorney effectively and evenly. The misstep clearly lies with the director.
The other actors are quite good. Nordlinger’s interloping Ginger is sexy and mysterious, as she should be, but also vulnerable and sensitive. Though she’s the play’s real, blameworthy catalyst, she’s a sympathetic enough character that it’s easy to try to hold her blameless. And Anthony and Lulu Fogarty play their righteous, wholesome middle class roles beautifully. Even as Tara slips into some potentially implausible situations, we believe her because Fogarty pulls it off so well.
Director Thom Fogarty’s set is intriguing: a bed in the middle of the theater, with the audience sitting in chairs lining either side. It’s clever staging that points out the bed’s significance in the whole messy affair, but it also, occasionally, positions the actors so that their backs are to half the audience, rendering their lines unintelligible. Equally confounding is the between scene music by The Head Set, who sound like a cross between U2 and The Strokes. Their songs are decent, to be sure, but they don’t have a connection to the play’s setting or action. Since it’s set in small town Oklahoma, more countrified music—as cliché as that may be—might have been a better fit.
Lancelot explores the space between the poor decisions of misguided youth and the attempt to have an orderly adult life: what we dreamed of being versus the reality of what it is easier to be. It’s an intriguing take (at an exploded, super-enhanced level), but somehow we can all relate. We come to realize that sometimes it’s best just to let go of regret and move forward with life as we know it.
Note: there is full frontal nudity both male and female
Lancelot. Through August 30 at The Gym at Judson (243 Thompson @ Washington Square South). www.360repco.org