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The $25,000 Pyramid

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

If not exactly an epochal game show, most people are probably familiar with one of the variants of The $25,000 Pyramid, in which contestants paired with celebrity guests try to guess words and categories of ever-increasing difficulty. And though a home version of that game is played during Nick Vigorito, Jr.'s play The $25,000 Pyramid, its connection to the story, like the play's connection to reality, is often unclear.

The central characters of Vigorito's work are two brothers, Tony (Damian Vanore) and Joey (Anthony Vitrano), long estranged and unable to communicate on even the most basic of terms. Tony is driven and somewhat successful, but not completely happy with what he's doing, while Joey is just scraping through with the kindness of others and occasional visits to a loan shark to cover his gambling debts, and each wants as little to do with the other as possible.

But when loan shark Pinkie (Tim Cinnante) comes to collect the $10,000 Joey owes him by midnight and threatens to cut off Joey's hand if he doesn't pay, the brothers are drawn together to find a solution to the problem, which, happening on the night of Tony's regular game night with other men from his group therapy session, where they all sit around playing the home edition of The $25,000 Pyramid, couldn't have come at a worse time.

This is essentially sitcom writing, with the plotting, somewhat broad characterizations, and contrived complications and solutions that often go along with them; all that's missing is the laugh track. Take, for example, the second act's board game session, where Joey's answers to Tony's clues suggest an almost impossible simplemindedness (example: interpreting the answer to "comes in a shell" and "blank butter and jelly" as "cream cheese"), instead of the severe lack of judgment he displayed throughout the first act. Tony's friends Angelo and Mike (Pete Mele and Michael Bullrich) react to all this with the obligatory bemusement, embarrassment, and puzzlement.

Director Morgan Doninger has done what he can with his direction, though his attempts at trying to find the morality play and cautionary tale in this story, while admirable, fall flat. The characters, like the situations, are too one-dimensional to give him or the actors much to work with. Vanore is stuck "playing angry," with lots of broad facial gestures and arm movements, and he often suggests Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners when working with the vaguely Art Carney-ish Vitrano. Cinnante's loan shark is similarly familiar, but Mele and Bullrich - despite having to play the Big Sensitive Guy and the Small Sensible Guy With All the Answers - do get to have some fun with their roles.

As does the audience with the play, for that matter - The $25,000 Pyramid is often amusing, even outright entertaining in places. But there are similar shows on cable TV networks like Nick at Nite or TV Land any given night of the week. And they're often funnier, more inventive, and more insightful than most of what Vigorito has written here.

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Fourth Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
The $25,000 Pyramid
Through August 1
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Abingdon Theater Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.279.4200