Whiskey, Beer, & Apple Pie
The Midtown International Theatre Festival
Insecurity!: The Recession-Proof Musical
Despite its title, Insecurity!: The Recession-Proof Musical is not a song-filled satire of America’s current economic woes. Mickey Zetts’s new show at the Midtown International Theatre Festival is actually about the people wearing blue uniforms, badges, and strange hats who guard wealthy people in important buildings. The irony, as the title suggests, is that the residents of South Florida’s Misery Towers condominiums would probably be better off with an arsenal of slingshots than with the sextet of well-meaning bozos who are in charge of guarding them. So it’s ironically appropriate, if disappointing, that Zetts’s already middling show takes so few risks.
The plot, such as it is, focuses on the gang’s attempts to prevent one of the building’s most vocal tenants, Ms. Katishaw (Fiona Choi), from convincing the co-op board to outsource the building’s security. There are sidelines, of course: Captain Penobscot (Randy Howk) has just gotten divorced and lets himself be talked into romancing Katishaw to change her mind; Sergeant Tuttle (Carlos Rafael Fernández) is writing the next Great American Novel; and Officer Reynolds (Zetts) learns the downsides of being a kept man when he falls for the rich daughter of the king of the Russian mafia, Tatianna Corleonevich (Jessica Farr). At the end, everything sort of ties together, but a fizzy good time is the show’s only real goal.
It delivers - barely - with a gentle undercurrent of fun and a few genuine belly laughs. But the slow pace of the evening (the lackadaisical direction is by Mark Karafin and the minimal choreography by Fayth Caruso) and the largely offhand songs don’t help. Zetts (also the only accompanist, on guitar) has crafted a cheery mock-ballad with “Hopeless, Helpless to Love,” a clever you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet duet for Tatianna and Katishaw called “Ugly,” and a unique Star Trek-inspired self-actualization solo for the security team’s put-upon outsider, Lt. Zume (Walter Brandes). The other numbers are momentarily pleasing but ultimately forgettable; with the exception of Zetts and Brandes, who are legitimately funny in their roles, the performances are very much the same (and the singing quite a bit less).
Zetts is obviously a talented and original musical voice, with a firm affinity for breezy musical comedy and lighter-than-air songs. But he may want to consider stretching himself a bit - his previous MITF go-round four years ago, Apathy: The Gen X Musical, presented a gang of terminally disinterested young adults whose outlooks on life weren’t much deeper than what’s heard in Insecurity! But those characters could support it; these have a harder time. Most musicals can only get audiences to care deeply if their characters care deeply and care dangerously. Zetts’s work will likewise be much better once he himself stops playing it safe.
Whiskey, Beer, & Apple Pie
For a play that doesn’t have to be at all inventive, Whiskey, Beer, & Apple Pie never contents itself with the status quo. Rob Egginton, Glenn De Kler, and Eli Sands could have just written a straight-up dating comedy about the various heartbreaks one waitress named Ginger (Maria Smith) witnesses at a casual Manhattan eatery. But by loading their show, which Egginton has capably directed, with believable characters and dialogue, honest feelings, and more running gags than you can shake a mozzarella stick at, they’ve elevated the overexplored mid-20s-angst genre well above simply watchable.
Sarah (Ally Hirschlag) stopped calling Nick (Brian Morvant) a month ago, without explanation. Julia (Scarlett Thiele) broke up with her college boyfriend Loius (De Kler) five years ago, making him a complete physical wreck. And Chris (Greg Engbrecht) literally slept around on Ginger with the spokeswoman for a local mattress chain. But though each of these unsettling reunions plays out as a variation on the ancient “It’s not you, it’s me” canard, they’re anything but typical. The first explores every surface-level nook and cranny of the male-female breakup aesthetic, from physical attraction to unwanted emotional connection; the second examines the nature and responsibilities of obsession; and the third (which is punctuated by the presence of a long-married couple, played by Adam P. Murphy and Amanda Duffy) dissects the myriad sacrifices commitment requires.
There’s nothing complicated here, in terms of either the acting or the staging, though both are more than sufficient - it's the details that delight. The three shockingly divergent ways merely ordering water can define a relationship. The intensity of Sarah and Nick’s argument about whether their “fling” ever should have become something more. The ominous voicemails that weave throughout Loius and Julia’s confrontation as hauntingly as they long have through Loius’s mind. A discussion about movies and their creativity-challenged directors that subtly transforms into a fitting metaphor for lasting love.
If this play doesn’t say much of anything new, its commitment to finding fresh ways of addressing mankind’s most painfully stale topic at least identifies it as serious theatre with serious, albeit limited, goals. As Ginger spits at the climax of her own romantic tragedy, “Sometimes love is not enough.” And sometimes, as in the case of Whiskey, Beer, & Apple Pie it - or at least the lack of it - certainly is.
Whiskey, Beer and Apple Pie