part of the
New York International Fringe Festival
Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera
Abercrombie & Fitch might not be willing to pay you to not wear its clothes, but you can still feel like part of the Seaside Heights gang at Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera, which is playing at the Bleecker Theater as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends exclusively on how much affection — if any — you have for the Guidos and Guidettes who are interested in partying, having sex, and, uh, that’s about it.
Writers Daniel Franzese and Hanna LoPatin have recreated the series’s famous scenes and stoked-up attitude, and strewn the result with more of the group’s barely literate lingo (DTF! Gorilla Juicehead! Smoosh!) than seems healthy for any purveyors of the English language. But what they haven’t done is give their concept the bold theatrical life or creativity that it needs to come across as more than an obligatory tie-in to an unlikely cultural phenomenon.
So forget right away about memorable speeches or songs. The action is a loose collection of vignettes powered mostly by buzzwords and impenetrable Italian-American accents; the score is monotonous music, often barely qualifying as rock, wedded with lyrics too simplistic to consistently generate even eye-rolling pleasure. Things do not get much wittier than “’You taste like herpes’ / ‘You smell like beef jerky’”; though one song, “Bitch in a Bed,” attempts an honest emotional connection with the character singing it (Sammi, as played by LoPatin the closest thing to a human being onstage). The show is filled instead with costume- or make-up-provided rippling muscles, bumping and grinding galore, and a general sense of libidinous chaos that the director is only occasionally able to wrangle into laughs.
The cast, however, is a game group. Franzese is a fine and funny fit as Ronnie, Mike Ciriaco makes a delightfully bewildered Vinny, Mark Shunock is a deadpan-stolid Pauly D, and Karen Diconcetto lets Snooki be sympathetic without pandering to her casing of absurdity — no easy feat. Max Crumm, of the semi-recent revival of Grease, is cast as Mike (aka "The Situation"), and is better at lifting his shirt to reveal his six-pack than negotiating the songs that sit well below his vocal and dramatic range. The most satisfying cast member overall is Derrick Barry, who is best known for impersonating Britney Spears on America's Got Talent: As J-Woww, he's solid sass, singing spectacularly and looking at once more feminine than the other women and more masculine than the other men.
Barry’s centerpiece number is a stage-filling valentine to Vinny’s most enduring attributes, the significance of which will seem shockingly minimal to anyone not richly versed in Jersey Shore Lore. It's Jersey Shore's most honest and effective expression of nonsensical fun, but it's so disconnected from reality that it might as well be in a revue rather than a book show. The rest of Jersey Shoresical is the same, a too-appropriate embodiment of its subjects: Nice to look at while soused, but not particularly memorable once you've sobered up.
Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera
If all of Jackie Ruggiero Jacobson’s play American Mud were like 10 minutes near its end, it could be engrossing. That’s when Adamaris (Jacobson), a "perfect" clone woman who’s the Republicrat Party 2012 presidential nominee, is interviewed by Katie Couric. Her experience is a combination of those received by Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the 2008 cycle: inciting and condescending, probing deeply but retrieving nothing of value. As Adamaris paddles through the ocean, dodging sharks while trying to catch Couric’s boat constructed from issues of The Economist (a long story), she poetically rails against the treatment of women in politics and laments that, like so many before her, her only contribution to the history books is destined to be as a footnote.
This is Ruggiero’s clearest and most insightful statement amid 70 other minutes of, well, muddy storytelling and inchoate ideas. Adamaris is trapped between the opposing forces of the modern progressive woman named Charlotte (Anjoli Santiago) and the original but wary trailblazer, Susan B. Anthony (Marjorie Goldman), with none of the three able to agree on an ideal contemporary campaign strategy. Boring as this is on its own, it's not aided by Charlotte's fervent support of Adamaris's campaign and Anthony's skepticism of it, especially when their concerns are voiced alongside the candidate's in endless didactic speeches and pretentious exchanges that might as well have been ripped from the animatronics displays at an underfunded women’s history museum.
Director Jose Aviles tries to maintain order, but is thwarted by the three inconsistent actresses, none of whom ever reveals a soul or shares the universe with the others (despite sharing the stage for almost all of the 80-minute running time), and especially the script, which has nothing to say beyond condemning the eternal futility of women daring to step into the public eye. The keystone scene is one in which Adamaris gives back-to-back speeches, promising conservatives she'll preserve life at any cost and liberals she'll maintain abortion at any cost to the latter, ending with her unleashing a wild volley of words to both groups at once. This causes you to neither learn nor feel anything, and only weighs down an already turgid evening that revels in its own cynicism at least as much as it claims Americans wallow in their institutional sexism.