By: Sandi Durell
What would you think if some guy cornered you on a street and titillated your interest offering you ecstatic vs. romantic love?
Right. . . a nutcase. Maybe so, but Cleo (Katya Campbell) becomes quickly interested in Joe’s (Jayce Bartok) advances (even though she has a boyfriend), bringing them to dinner at a restaurant that has a disappearing waitress and a blank menu (one of the more amusing scenes). And that’s how Laugh It Up (by Alan Hruska – a filmmaker, director, former attorney) begins its high tech absurdist, fast paced, mostly emotionless banter that takes you through a series of quick scenes and life experiences.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments but, mainly, the comedy deals with life’s ups and downs that you’ve seen portrayed a thousand times – – boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl reluctantly responds. The affair begins in Joe’s one-room hovel (with no closet – he uses the shower curtain bar); Joe a self-described patient guy, with no job but promising Cleo much more if she marries him.
Cleo becomes pregnant, the set (by Kevin Judge) turns from hovel to hospital room to an eventual large home as the chandelier that begins way at the top of the stage begins to lower. Lo and behold their baby is gone missing at the hospital when the nurse (Amy Hargreaves – who plays several roles) had to go to the ladies room to pee and leaves the baby, as the nutty doctor (Maury Ginsberg – who also plays a series of roles) doesn’t inspire much hope registering little surprise about the incident.
As life moves along, it’s 5 years later and while socializing with their best friends (Hargreaves & Ginsberg), suspicious Cleo discovers that Joe has had an affair with the friend’s wife who thinks it’s no big deal. Separation, heartbreak, and eventual reunion ensue as the dialogue touches on who we are as humans: pleasure seekers, egotistical, selfish yet caring, wanting to believe that there is something meaningful as we search for more in life and relationships.
Soon it’s 10 years later and son Harry (whom we don’t see) is off at school while Cleo and Joe are at their summerhouse in Rhode Island when a well-informed armed intruder (Ginsberg) enters trying to extort money from the now well-to–do Joe who made all his money as a currency arbitrageur. They try to pay him off with paintings. After a short game of Russian Roulette (yes, folks), gunshots and more silly stuff ensue. And just to complete the picture, next we see Cleo and Joe they are traveling in Venice, all to soon to be told (while their guide is hitting on Cleo) that there’s a tidal wave back in Rhode Island that has destroyed their home and everything around them.
Some people just learn to rise above all that befalls them and hang onto a buoy for life.
The ensemble of four work hard and although director Chris Eigeman tries to move this comedy along at rapid pace (it’s listed as 95 minutes, with one intermission – but seems longer), there’s too much squeezed into the writing that should have concentrated more heavily on less ultimately giving us more.
Laugh It Up, Stare It Down – Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., NYC, www.laughitupplay.com
Photos: Richard Termine