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Non-Equity The Musical!
Right on Target

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Non-Equity The Musical!

If energy necessarily translated to quality, Non-Equity The Musical!, playing at the Players Theater through next Saturday as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, would deserve to be fast-tracked to Broadway. Written by Paul D. Mills (music and lyrics) and Danielle Trzcinski, it's a desperately cute look at six young musical theatre performers who are "living their dream" but not yet part of the actors' union — to say nothing of earning much money. Trzcinski, who stars as the pretty and talented but pushed-aside Wendy, and Keith Antone, Lindsay Morgan, Pierce Cassedy, Joe Donnelly, and Nichole Turner are all delightful as the hopefuls who line up for cattle calls, stand in hallways, try to stay chill during cold readings, and endure pay-to-play meetings unlikely to give them the jobs and recognition they crave.

The show around them, alas, does not capture your imagination so easily. Lodged between "too inside baseball" and "too accessible," it renders the deepest difficulties of the actor's lot into dopey bits that sing endlessly (if seldom effortlessly) without establishing solid emotional connections. Songs about wishing for that big break, being better than producers realize, and struggling to match casting requirements you don't know mingle haphazardly with maudlin tales about the loved ones the stars leave in their careers' wake, inane one-offs that could have come from any show (a song about straight women longing to be men to get better jobs? Really?), and overly glitzy ballads about the wonders of show business, make the 100-minute show at once sluggish and schizophrenic.

Director Christian Amato and choreographer Sam Doblick have staged things well enough, but they haven't overcome the show's inherent flaw: It feels like a revue laden with far too much book. The songs are pleasant, though obvious and forgettable, but Trzcinski needs to either abandon some of the stereotypes she so freely employs (the heavy black girl who belts, the question of how actresses date when surrounded only by gay men, and so on) or cut some characters so they're less noticeable. When everything is this general, it's difficult to achieve either pointed satire or focused entertainment, and Non-Equity manages neither.

It is, however, an outstanding showcase for two of its cast: Dominic Sellers, who blissfully underplays a superbly connected and strangely lucky actor who's always finds a way to get seen, and especially Emily Swan, who plays every audition monitor supervising the members of the lead sextet. Swan hilariously fashions each one as a complete and unique woman, with different voices (from nerd to authoritarian), mannerisms, and even apparent backstories that make them the most sparkling and dynamic fixtures of every scene in which they appear. Her ingenious, detailed work reminds you that serious acting chops can be found even in the least-expected places. Non-Equity The Musical! wants to promote the same goal itself, but never gets as close as Swan does.

Non-Equity The Musical!
Through August 25
The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (West 3rd and Bleecker)
Tickets and current schedule" FringeNYC.org


Right on Target

In his Fringe Festival play Right on Target, playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre through Friday, Gary Morgenstein considers the dangers of extreme ideology and how elected office can corrupt even the most well-meaning of people. Unfortunately, his story about a stalwart black conservative named Benjy Harrison, who's fired from his PR job at a D.C.-based PBS station and decides to sue his ultra-liberal lesbian boss Susan (on whom Benjy's wife, Karen, also depends for her livelihood), is so riddled with clichés that not a single provocative thought ever has a chance to bubble to the surface. Given Benjy's incessant torturing of a Big Bird doll to garishly unbelievable behavior (he gets seriously worked up over maltreatment of a Sarah Palin bobble-head doll and is quick to cheat on his wife), he plays as more a parody of a "conservative" (quotes included) than an actual person.

Morgenstein does present a couple of interesting notions: Benjy's sudden celebrity and ascension to talk radio stardom, the left-leaning Karen's being caught between two arguments she implicitly understands but wants to ignore, and how lingering recession (or depression?) can compel us to abandon what we think we believe. But despite an impressively diverse character roster (did I mention the Syrian dentist who now delivers hummus?), they don't develop into searing drama, biting comedy, or thought-provoking satire. Everyone seems to have been cribbed from American Politics for Dummies, rather than crafted out of theatrical necessity, so the 70-minute evening comes across as more wearying than wise. Noemí de la Puente's eternally strained direction and six uncomfortable-looking and -sounding actors (none of whom, in the interests of kindness, will I name) do not help matters.

Theatregoers should appreciate Morgenstein's devotion to balance and his attempts to portray America's problems as being less the fault of one side or the other than the inability of both to respect and learn from their differences. But the execution, sadly, never hits a single bull's eye.

Right on Target
Through August 24
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street (Bedford & Barrow Street)
Tickets and current schedule" FringeNYC.org