Talkin' Broadway HomePast ColumnsAbout

Off Broadway
Hillary Agonistes

Out of My Mind

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Hillary Agonistes

Presidential contenders on both sides of the aisle have been acting as though the world will end if Hillary Clinton is sent to the White House next year, but theyíre probably not expecting literal Armageddon. Nevertheless, thatís the subject of Hillary Agonistes, the stammering tolerance treatise by Nick Salamone thatís playing as part of this yearís New York International Fringe Festival. Just months after taking office in 2009, the new President Clinton is faced with a catastrophe of Biblical proportions: 65 million people, in every country and of every walk of life, have vanished off the face of the Earth, leaving only their clothes and a terrified populace behind. To make matters worse for Madam President: Bill is among the vanished.

This, however, is not a whodunit. Exactly what happened is at best a side issue - the play is far more concerned in speculating on the ramifications of the crisis for both Hillary herself and the world at large. The implications, which range from the political (an off-the-cuff use of the word ďantichristĒ ignites global outrage) to the personal (daughter Chelsea, now married to a Muslim and wearing a burqa, is outraged with her motherís actions), could circumscribe a fascinating drama about one of the most polarizing public figures of our time. But Salamoneís treatment, despite nods to John Miltonís classic tragedy Samson Agonistes in everything from the title on down, resonates less as a complex portrait of a complicated woman than as a satirical rant against the political process in general.

Salamone himself even appears onstage in a series of firmly ribbing guises like current New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (Hillaryís Secretary of the Treasury), evangelist Pat Robertson, a flouncy cardinal, and Dr. Stephen Hawking. But these cameos add less texture to the play than they do present the Oval Office as a revolving-door menagerie of the ridiculous. So itís not that easy to take even the more straightforward characters seriously: Both Chelsea and Hillaryís chief of staff are given on-point, matter-of-fact portrayals by Rebecca Metz and Jean Gilpin, but fade to bullet-point irrelevancy in the larger story thatís never quite told to completion.

As for Hillary herself, sheís played by Priscilla Barnes with a definite air of strait-laced occasion that instantly makes you forget the nurse she played for several years on TVís Threeís Company. Barnes finds every ounce of the weight under which Hillary is living, but delivers a remarkably supple performance thatís thematically correct for a woman whoís gained both fame and infamy by being all things to all people. She does not, however, much suggest the real Hillary Clinton, whose mixture of warmheartedness, icy ambition, and laserlike determination has earned her so many followers and enemies. But thatís not Barnesís fault - Salamone has magnified the mythic at the expense of the realistic. He hasnít, however, demonstrated why the former is more apropos to Hillary Clinton. Maybe weíll only find out for sure in November of next year.

Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission
VENUE #18: CSV Cultural and Educational Center - Flamboyan
Performances: Sun 12 @ 2:15, Thu 16 @ 7:15, Sun 19 @ 7, Wed 22 @ 4
Tickets online FringeNYC

Out of My Mind

Whether your own therapy is numbing or enlivening, chances are you donít want to share it with anyone else. That doesnít seem to apply to Marvin Novogrodski and Doug Vogel, who in their Fringe show Out of My Mind have apparently recreated (or at least reimagined) Novogrodskiís own sessions for the stage. The degree to which youíll find it interesting is directly related to your capacity for absorbing strangersí stories about their families, childhoods, relationships, and emotional goals, and whether you think an hour is sufficient to get to know anyone well enough to care.

The format allows little room for rich narrative, so Novogrodskiís reminiscences, about topics as diverse as his Russian-Jewish family and his illegitimate son, donít pack much of a punch. Nor does Novogrodski, who despite boasting of 20 years with Rhode Islandís Everett Dance Theatre in his program bio, comes across as unyielding and unengaging onstage, more about posing and creating images than revealing himself and his journey to us. Vogel, who plays Novogrodskiís therapist both in the show and supposedly in real life, brings a more vibrant energy to the proceedings that makes Out of My Mind a slightly easier sit.

But while youíre watching it, youíre most aware of the theatrical possibilities that are touched on but never explored in depth. Hypnosis and suggestion are crucial to Vogel and Novogrodskiís respective arts, but play only bit parts when they could be full-out costars. (Exchanges about itchy underwear, with real running-gag potential, are at best a dead end.) Focusing more on these elements might detract from what Novogrodski is trying to say, but they could just as easily help humanize him in ways his controlled outbursts of therapy-inspired revelations cannot.

During the very few times he does let us see who he really is, the results are charming: A 30-second, virtuosic juggling act, for example, is the highlight of the evening, and feels more innately Novogrodski than most of the lines he speaks. Glimpses like this into his soul, more than trips into his mind, suggest Novogrodski might be a worthy subject of a show after all. Out of My Mind, however, seldom seems like the one.

Running Time: 60 minutes with no intermission
VENUE #2: The Cherry Lane Theatre
Performances: Tue 14 @ 9:45, Wed 15 @ 3:15, Wed 22 @ 4:45, Sat 25 @ 5:15
Tickets online FringeNYC