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Apathy: The Gen X Musical
Feasting on Cardigans
Glory Road
Under My Apron

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Apathy: The Gen X Musical

There's no reason to care about anything that happens in Apathy: The Gen X Musical, but that's only because nothing happens. The show's author, Mickey Zetts, knows his subject matter and his audience so well that he's succeeded in fashioning a musical that absolutely shouldn't work, yet somehow does. With a score that's played almost entirely by a long-haired, lackadaisical guitarist (billed in the program as Malphoof) who wanders about the stage and features songs that long for the emotional complexity Avenue Q brings to similar ideas, this show simultaneously captures - and embraces - young-adult nothingness.

The characters are all archetypes: Demanding girlfriend Babbet (Fiona Choi), her submissive man Schleppin' Jones (Matt Miniea), Goth girl Laka (Sami Rudnick), gay Latin guy Nicodemus (Ethan Gomez), sexually obsessed stoner Filander (Ryan G. Metzger), and blonde sexpot Tangerine (Samantha Leigh Josephs) all congregate around a ratty couch, drink, eat, smoke marijuana, complain, bitter over their interlocking relationships, and then complain some more. For two solid hours.

Oddly, it never gets tiresome. It's partially because of the songs, which are never brilliant but are always right: Babbet sings "I Love Her to Her Face" about adolescent duplicity, Schleppin' Jones has his own spirit-sucking theme song, and Nic and Fil use extreme tactics to scare off Tangerine's cop boyfriend (Duncan Pflaster) with the amusing "Get Out Now." And it's partially because of the performances, which all firmly inhabit the characters' limited landscapes but are never over the top. And it's partially the director (Paula D'Alessandris), who - despite the odds - makes these limitations work for her instead of against her.

But it's mostly just a case of synthesis, that magical, unforeseeable force in the theatre that happens when you're not paying attention. It's the only way to explain how a musical like Apathy, which is considerably less than the sum of its parts, manages to be so much guileless, guilty fun.

Apathy: The Gen X Musical
Through August 7
WorkShop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, just west of 8th Avenue Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Tickets online and Festival Performance Schedule:
Smarttix

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Feasting on Cardigans

Is the mating instinct stronger in humans or in moths? If you've never wondered that before, you're not alone - it certainly never occurred to me before seeing Mark Eisman's Feasting on Cardigans. But this tender little play about how five people cope with procreative and self-protective desires during the worst city-wide moth infestation in 50 years is never afraid of making the unusual commonplace or the commonplace unusual.

The story centers on a young exterminator named Haff (Ian Pfister), who's engaged to a woman named Lenah (Kate Sandberg), a 911 dispatcher who doesn't want children; Haff's partner, Rose-Marie (Virginia Callaway) does, and will do as much to have a baby as Lenah will to avoid having one. This puts the conflicted Haff in a number of awkward positions, and he's not assisted by the subconscious influences exerted on him because of a customer named Crescent (Andrea Gallo), who is herself searching for love while trying to raise her moth-obsessed loner nephew Duncan (Tyler Samuel Lee).

The story is surprisingly charming, and is warmly directed by the level-headed Amy Henault. Both director and author are careful never to push the moth metaphor too far, and both make their points succinctly in each of the play's brief, declarative scenes. The acting, too, is winning: Pfister adroitly anchors the show with his embracing, unassuming performance, and Sandberg and Callaway beautifully complement him as his love interests.

There are times, especially later on, that the script seems a bit too precious, and references to certain Japanese monster movies threaten to undercut the play's foundation of off-kilter seriousness. Still, Feasting on Cardigans is an enjoyable show that addresses an important human concern in a totally new way, with laughs and sentiment in roughly equal measure. Plus, it's deserving of real respect for at least one choice sentence: "Your ignorance about pupas is grating." No play that can contain that line, get laughs with it, and imbue it with multiple layers of meaning deserves to be casually overlooked.

Feasting on Cardigans
Through August 6
WorkShop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, just west of 8th Avenue
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online and Festival Performance Schedule:
Smarttix

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Glory Road

One can't blame writers for wanting to tackle the subject of religious hypocrisy, but one can - and should - blame them for tackling it badly, as Greg Senf and Gregory Max have in Glory Road. The story's about a preacher and his group of goodhearted, Southern Christian evangelicals who accept help from a con man who secretly has his eyes on the preacher's wife and daughter and the money he can help them raise by fleecing it out of unsuspecting sheep. Factor in a book that attempts topicality with lame jokes about Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh, a score that develops primarily by nauseating repetition of its songs' deadening choruses, and passionless direction (George Wolf Reily), and you have a surefire recipe for boredom.

There's not an original idea here: The hero is, of course, genuinely in love with the preacher's daughter, but who can't make anyone believe the con man is really the bad guy; there's a black woman in the cast, apparently only on hand to participate in a pointless subplot and eventually lead the gospel rave-up finale ("Rise Up," with the approximate excitement of a game of tiddlywinks); and the closest thing to a humorous moment is when the preacher's ancient mother leads a high-stepping dance about a religious-themed golf course.

The actress is Barbara Litt, and though she's dressed like a man in drag, she's the production's sole saving grace and the only one who convinces us she's having fun. The casting is otherwise dreary: Michael Finkelstein has no discernible energy or charisma as the con man, Beth Chiarelli's performance as the preacher's wife emanates primarily from her teeth, Eric Peterson's wide-eyed innocence as the hero can't help him sell his songs, and Kristen Hammer's bland likeability doesn't make her top notes in her too-rangy numbers any easier to listen to. Not that it really matters - when songs have titles and ideas like "Our Love Will Last Forever," "Friends," and "Out in the Cold," high notes are the least of anyone's problems.

Glory Road
Through August 7
WorkShop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, just west of 8th Avenue
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Tickets online and Festival Performance Schedule:
Smarttix

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Under My Apron

Anyone who feels, without exception, that sketch comedy has no place in the theatre should avoid Under My Apron. There's no reason, however, for anyone else to stay away. True, there's little comedic innovation in Debbie Williams's 23-scene collection of anecdotes, jokes, and animated clichés structured around the lives of restaurant employees, but the playlets Williams has written - and the actors who perform them - are so much fun that even this well-worn material makes for 90 minutes of gleeful viewing.

Specific highlights include the full company's quibbling over an exorbitant bill; Ron Williams as Andy, a waiter of limited talent who's trying to break into the cutthroat world of Indiana dinner theatre; Kevin Starzynski as a conceited caterer who's never pleased by anyone, including himself; Corey Greenan as a bartender who philosophizes about the nature of true, enduring love; and Kristen Eagen as a waitress who explains the ins and outs of tip collecting. Every scene, however, has something unique to recommend it, whether an easy-natured performance, a devious laugh-getting exclamation, or - yes, it happens - a flash of unexpected insight. Hoary jokes (and there are plenty) and moments of shamelessly overt pathos alike play with nothing less than sheer sincerity.

For that, Williams deserves most of the credit, though not just for her sharp, funny writing and keen ear for dialogue. In addition, she directs the show with a no-nonsense flair that keeps the actors hopping and never wastes the audience's time, and also appears onstage to prove herself a capable comic actress: It would appear that there's nothing she can't do. The program states that one of this production's goals is to secure an open-ended Off-Broadway run for Under My Apron; not only is it likely with this genial gem of a show, but Williams's talent and determination make it virtually guaranteed.

Under My Apron
Through August 7
WorkShop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4th floor, just west of 8th Avenue
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online and Festival Performance Schedule:
Smarttix