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Plums In New York

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Plums are plentiful this time of year, so it's highly appropriate that a sweet, juicy production should spring from them. Plums in New York, produced by The Icelandic Connection, is hardly spectacularly written, but is the type of warm-hearted and lovable valentine to America and New York City that only an outsider could devise.

Author Anna Rósa Sigurdardóttir, also the production's sole human performer, begins with the premise that her character - a playwright named Gudrún, who is obsessed with August Strindberg - is inspired to visit New York by a dream in which she finds and eats a number of perfect plums. She believes that this signifies a harvest in her future, hopefully of the kind that will allow her the opportunity to finish the play she's begun writing about Strindberg.

After coming to New York and taking up with her friend Mariah, Gudrún becomes so obsessed with Strindberg - and his belief that all of life is an artistic experiment - that she believes his spirit enters her body and begins controlling her actions. This alienates her from those around her, and causes her to doubt her own feelings and abilities; eventually, she learns that she must either expel the spirit of Strindberg from her body or learn to live with his constant presence.

It's a somewhat clunky way of examining the source and effects of artistic inspiration, but the details of the play's plot ultimately prove less interesting than the way the story is told. A number of elements play a part: Sigurdardóttir dances her way through a number of scenes, live singing and background music (on keyboard and guitar) is provided by composer Rósa Gundmundsdóttir, and Hera Ólafsdóttir's tight direction always keep the show on track. Perhaps most significant, though, are Sigurdardóttir's costars and the sets representing New York City.

They're all projections, designed by Egill Ingibergsson and Móeidur Helgadóttir. The people are mostly constructions of geometric shapes - rectangles, triangles, and squares organized in constantly shifting patterns to denote both movement and character: The women, daffy yet sophisticated, wear short skirts and have wild haircuts; the men, daring and forward, wear oddly shaped hats and neckties that move independently of the bodies they're attached to. The buildings are tall, formless, great masses of windows; interiors are perhaps a bit more detailed, and the New York streets all look the same, mostly empty, but populated by chattering rats.

Far from being a gimmick, these projections provide the play's heart and soul, creating an environment so stylized and special that we're immediately wrapped up in how Gudrún sees and interacts with the city. Yes, it gives the play a surreal look, and forces Sigurdardóttir to interact with a number of two-dimensional characters, but it underscores Gudrún's own sense of discovery and wonder about the place she's visiting: From the inside of a taxi cab to Ground Zero to a hole-in-the-wall bookstore, we see everything that Gudrún is experiencing through her own eyes. As she's captivated by the city and all it has to offer, so too are we able to witness it all again for the first time.

The projections are so cleverly designed, and so thoroughly charming, that they can (and often do) steal the show away from Sigurdardóttir. Though she provides all the supporting characters' voices live, using a wide range of clever impressions (Mariah is more than a little reminiscent of Fran Drescher), the viewer can't be blamed for eventually focusing as much (or more) on the projections as on the human star. Sigurdardóttir can only be blamed insofar as the writing itself proves ultimately less interesting than the way it's presented.

That presentation is responsible for elevating an otherwise pedestrian play about one woman's search for self-understanding to something lighter, more enjoyable, and easily relatable. Plums in New York becomes an almost ideal marriage of script to production, with each element enhancing the others enough to create an experience far greater than the sum of its parts. Flawed as Plums in New York is, it's nonetheless worth devouring before the season is over.

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Icelandic Connection
Plums In New York
Through September 26
Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission
Clurman Theater on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge