Exhibit This!: The Museum Comedies
Five by Three
The quintet of short comedies called Five By Three, which is playing at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is more notable for its parts than its sum. Taken as a whole, there's not much remarkable about the soufflé-light evening of 15-minute plays by Nicole Greevy, Uma Incrocci, and Erica Jensen: They're generally standard and staid, Seinfeld-esque send-ups of mid-20s angst. Though each is good for at least a few laughs, the quality varies so much from piece to piece that you might need to pop a Dramamine or two to get from first show to last. But scattered along the show's bumpy road are a few precious sparkles that elevate the evening above mere fluff.
Greevy delivers two detailed, sophisticated performances as a daring cheek biter in the evening's first piece, "Impulsitive," about the ideas we do and don't (but probably should) keep hidden, and as an aging hipster coming to grips with the passage of time (and the gradual zombification of her culture) in the closer, "28 Years Later." Melanie Whermacher is a riot early on as a complaining waitress, then reappears later (in the same role) as a sounding board for a violent female-friendship breakup in the straining "Friendsters" and as a secret-knowing (and secret-hiding) friend in "28 Years Later." Jensen, who shares directing chores with Greevy, brings an incisive comedic sense to "Impulsitive," "28 Years Later," and the predictable "The Other Side" (about two men making a terrifying journey into the unknown) that's not always present in the scripts themselves.
Most of the other acting, though, is unexceptional, and Greevy's direction of "Friendsters" and the muddled mismatched-relationship playlet, "Moving Day," can't compete with Jensen's zestier, more actively inventive work. The program offers no clues as to who wrote what, or who generated which ideas, but kudos to whichever playwright or director conceived the scene changes: They set up characters and jokes multiple scenes ahead of time, and feature not only hilarious zombie dances (choreographed by Maria Colaco) but even a song about the close connection between cleanliness and horniness, which is accompanied by a live, onstage guitarist. It's yet another way that Greevy, Incrocci, and Jensen have assured that, even if you don't learn a thing from Five by Three, you're at least guaranteed a good time.
Five By Three
Exhibit This!: The Museum Comedies
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art has come to life!", proclaims the program of the MITF production of Exhibit This!: The Museum Comedies. Well, sort of. That's the premise behind Luigi Jannuzzi's collection of 17 scenes based on some of the Met's finest works of art, but not a great deal of life is on display.
Sketches range from the obvious (a running gag of a tour guide whose personal life constantly intrudes on the lectures she's trying to give) and the tedious (two Egyptian statues complaining about yet another tour of the United States) to the impenetrable (a trio of tapestries bickering about interactions with the museum's visitors) and the bizarre (a guard being too inspired by a fertility statue while on the phone to his wife). A handful of scenes focus on paintings' discontent, first between a pair of Renoirs and their real-life admirers, then later with works by Georges De La Tour, Salvator Rosa, and Jacques-Louis David, the latter of which finds Socrates navigating a labyrinthine art-help telephone hotline.
No scenes are burn-barning laugh-getters, and the funniest of what's here is dryly amusing at best; just about everything would benefit from some trimming and tightening. But director Elizabeth Rothan never makes the most of what she has to work with, leaving many bits to stew in inert staging that never gives the guffaws a chance to get rolling. Worse, the actors paint everything in strokes so broad, it often seems as if you've entered a time-warp back to kindergarten finger-painting. Only Peter Stoll even attempts subtlety as the security guard who's put upon at both work and home, but he can't make much of the unwieldy moments he's saddled with.
The only self-justifying scene is the finale, "Framed," based on Jean Antoine Watteau's "Mezzetin" and presenting a guitar-playing musician who can't tell whether he's in a painting or a play. It attempts to bridge the gap between visual art and theatre, as well as Baroque and avant garde, and is so radically different in style from all that precedes it that it hardly seems to belong in the otherwise overly conventional Exhibit This!. It just goes to show that in the theatre, as in a museum, you'll undoubtedly find something of interest if you walk long enough.
Exhibit This! The Museum Comedies