Off Broadway Reviews
Arias for the Mundane
Yes, the double meaning of Extra Virgin's title is intentional. Howard Walters addresses both sex and olive oil during the course of his 60-minute Fringe Festival entry, which is ultimately more about lubrication and cleansing of the spirit than of the body, in case you were wondering. But the title of the play is, for another reason, a poor choice. Despite heavy sexual and emotional themes, and an opening sex scene as graphic (and borderline violent) as they come, this play can't generate or hold any real heat.
Tension is supposed to arise from the coming together of Elias, a golden-boy stud (Kevin Creamer), and Noah (Jimmy King), a nebbishy Jew, who meet as strangers in an Internet chat room and then meet for sex. But Elias gradually discovers that Noah is not so anonymous after all - the two met years before, in a way they'd both rather forget. Walters intelligently realizes the issues of desperation, abandonment, and longing that are central to both men, but his writing reduces real concerns to flat, untheatrical obviousness. "My idea of getting over someone is by getting under someone else" and "This isn't hiding, this is poor body image" are two of many examples; each new twist and turn in the plot is accompanied by writing that makes the characters' feelings far sillier than they should seem.
Director Michael Melamedoff stages the central conflict nicely, but can't salvage most of these moments. King compensates somewhat - Noah's fidgety fingers and reckless self-protective streak communicate far more about how his earlier traumas affected him than does most of Walters's dialogue. But while Noah's chronic discomfort registers as King's intriguing acting choice, it's less effective from Creamer: If he never looks more uncomfortable than during that initial sex scene, he appears nervous and unconnected throughout, reciting angry lines with no intensity and remaining so distant from emotional involvement that he might as well be in a theater across the street.
Actually, much of Creamer's most detailed, successful acting emanates from his abs, which helps explain why he spends half the play shirtless. Many audience members won't mind the flesh; most will even expect it. Other expectations they have about Extra Virgin, however, are less certain to be fulfilled.
Arias for the Mundane
There's very little that's commonplace about Arias for the Mundane, which stars James Junio as Jon, an ordinary guy. An ordinary guy who wakes up every morning to coffee, trudges off to a job he doesn't enjoy, trudges back home to yet more coffee, and then heads off to bed, only to repeat the cycle the next day. And, oh yeah, who sings about it all in Italian.
Okay, maybe that last part isn't so ordinary. But it quickly grows to seem so in this brief (40 minutes) but entertaining show, in which simple, every day thoughts are prime fodder for songs of operatic weight and impact. (They've been set to music from Mozart's Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro and Puccini's La Boheme.) Junio, decked out as a stereotypically nerdy single guy, sings Jon's problems in a wistful, businesslike baritone that effectively communicates Jon's struggles but - much like the character it helps describe - seems special in this case only because there's no one else around.
Well, except for the show's pianist Jenny Washburn, the omniscient warden of Jon's imprisoning lifestyle. Whenever he begins to perceive a way to escape his doldrums - such as with an art test he receives in the mail - she jolts him back to reality with a thudding, dissonant chord on the piano. Or, when more subtlety is called for, she'll tap her foot, shoot him outraged glares, or mutter angrily about his increasing desire for independence, and threaten to steal the spotlight from the star.
It must be noted that she frequently succeeds. But director Melanie T. Morgan keeps the interplay between the two well balanced, so neither has dominance for long. If there's a flaw in Arias for the Mundane, it's that there's never any real doubt about how the conflict between the two will resolve, and a bit more suspense would make the show's Groundhog Day-like repetition play even better. Even so, it's great fun watching something other than a vicious life-or-death struggle between two characters of such vividly operatic dimensions.
Arias For The Mundane