NY Theater Review by Sonia Roberts
The Mad Ones’ The Essential Straight & Narrow is an entertaining, aesthetically-pleasing play (Laura Jellinek has crafted a detailed 1970s-style set that works beautifully with Mike Inwood’s lighting design) that capitalizes upon the quick-paced, naturalistic dialogue that ensemble-created work so wonderfully achieves. We’re introduced to two interweaving storylines – one of an actress rehearsing a scene on a film set by herself, another of a recently reunited country band stranded in a New Mexico motel in the middle of the desert. The stories do finally connect at the play’s end, but the payoff lacks depth and purpose, leaving us wondering about the point of the actress’ storyline.
The band’s reunion tour story, however, unfolds with humor at a vigorous pace. The band broke up at one point because Graham (Joe Curnutte), the lead singer, left his bandmates Jo (Stephanie Wright Thompson) and Paul (Michael Dalto), presumably because of a sour breakup with Jo which is vaguely alluded to but never fully explained. They’re stranded in Pinos Altos because of car trouble, and make a new friend in Debbie (an outstanding Marc Bovino), a woman who loves craft time, throwing parties, and her missing cat, Percy. As the band tries to make the most of their extended pitstop, rehearsing and getting to know each other again, they unfortunately get bad news – they couldn’t sell enough tickets and the tour has been canceled, so they drown their sorrows at the Halloween party Debbie throws in Jo’s motel room for all her friends (an energetic ensemble in delightfully wacky costumes).
All of the performances are strong, but Bovino truly gets to the heart of Debbie’s humor and loneliness with a subtlety that completely blurs the line between actor and character. That Debbie’s gender is never mentioned didn’t bother me one bit – we could see her as transitioning or simply a woman being played by a man, as all the characters just accept her for who she is. She quickly became the audience’s favorite with the entire theatre perking up at each of her entrances. Lila Neugebauer’s direction is inventive and precise, using every inch of the space and clearly delineating between the two storylines.
The Essential Straight & Narrow is worth seeing as a strong, enjoyable, ensemble-created piece, but the script could benefit from further character and thematic development to truly maximize its potential and take it to a deeper, more complex place.
(click photos to expand)
The Essential Straight & Narrow
Created by The Mad Ones In collaboration with the ensemble
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Through June 14 – The New Ohio Theatre’s Archive Residency
154 Christopher Street
Tickets at NewOhioTheatre.org