Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Some Other Kind of Person and
Some Other Kind of Person and
Bill is a low-key businessman who turns into a bundle of nerves when he stumbles (don't ask how) into a Phnom Penh brothel. Fascinated and repulsed, he eventually selects one of the underage girlsnot for sex, but to buy her freedom. Bill is proud of himself for becoming the girl's savior, but when she repeatedly runs back to the brothel, Bill learns that freedom isn't something that can be obtained by pulling a few hundred dollars out of your wallet. And, while Bill condemns the hard-nosed madam for her ruthless exploitation of innocents, he isn't blameless either: he's an expert in labor arbitrage who's in Cambodia to setup an offshoring deal. If he and his tart-tongued business partner Lakshmi can pull it off, they'll reduce their client's overhead by moving manufacturing to this home of low-cost workers. Seems like the madam isn't the only person who thinks Cambodian lives aren't worth much.
Some Other Kind of Person gets a lot of laughs through its extreme characters, like Lakshmi, whose practicality goes hand in hand with her cynicism, and Kaliyan, the madam who dickers with Bill over the prostitute's price (when he lowballs her, she tells him "Shame on you for undervaluing human life"). Lakshmi and Kaliyan end up getting into a battle of competing guilt tripswho had a more deprived upbringing, Lakshmi in India or Kaliyan in Cambodia? (Hard to say, since they both seem to be making up their hard-luck stories on the spot.) Even the hapless Bill tries to get in on that action ("We had a really big civil war in America. Some people still have flags").
But Some Other Kind of Person never digs too deeply into the sex trade crisis, perhaps out of fear that the truth underlying it won't be too funny. Bill is a good comic character, but he becomes more frustrating as he slips from naiveté into stupidity. (The stupider Bill gets, the more unrealistic the play gets.) And Pfeffinger errs in introducing one more outsider: Cara, an American housewife who has come to Cambodia to adopt a child. Lakshmi criticizes Cara for pursuing the adoption in order to appear noble to her friends back homean argument that neither Cara nor the playwright can disagree with. But that's a simplistic (and scurrilous) slam against people who do a world of good by adopting foreign-born children. And Pfeffinger overreaches by making Cara as shallow and self-centered as Bill. (I know it's a dark comedy, but can't there be one likable and morally uncompromised character?)
Despite these flaws, and despite its terribly vague title, Some Other Kind of Person is worth seeing. It's got a good comic construction (although it needs to lose its momentum-busting intermissionthe show would be less than 90 minutes without it) and a satisfying ending. Paul Meshejian's direction hits all the comedic notes just right, and Caitlin Lainoff's set is sleek and cohesive. Bi Jean Ngo (as Kaliyan) and Nandita Shenoy (as Lakshmi) give sensational comic performances, and David Ingram is suitably buffoonish as Bill. There's good support from Brenny Rabine as Cara and from Victoria Chau as Angkat, the mostly silent prostitute who may know a lot more than she lets on.
Pfeffinger paints his characters with a broad brushthe more ridiculous they are, the better they are for satiric purposes. Sometimes (as with Cara) that brush is too broad, but most of the time, Pfeffinger's snarky comedy works very well.
Some Other Kind of Person runs through June 23, 2013, and is presented by InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets start at $20 and are available by phone at 215-568-8079 or online at www.InterActTheatre.org.
Glass, Shattered is playwright/director Michael Durkin's "deconstruction" of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, that most famous of "memory plays." In Williams' play, Tom tells us we're seeing everything filtered through his memory; in Durkin's play, we get multiple viewpoints of the same storyscenes from Williams' play are projected on video, and then we see the same actors from the video live before us, playing scenes which take the story in another direction. But sometimes that order is reversed; is the video a record of what really happened, or is the live reenactment more accurate?
"I don't remember any of this," says Tom while watching a scene. Later he interrupts a scene, saying "This doesn't seem righthold on." When Amanda doesn't do her scene to Tom's satisfaction, he directs her to repeat her speech while over-emoting, "like Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest." Jim, the Gentleman Caller, isn't the ideal Tom has portrayed him as"You built me up so much," Jim complains. Laura urges Tom to move on with his life; she's not the helpless wallflower we've seen in Williams' play. Maybe she's not the crippled one in the family, either.
It's an interesting experiment, but as you might expect, it can't hold a candle to the original play, especially in its dialogue. Durkin's production takes too long to get goingTom meanders around his apartment, and the play meanders with himbut eventually Glass, Shattered provides some small but nice rewards, especially in Eric Scotolati's haunted performance as a Tom wracked with remorse about how he left his family behind. There's strong acting support from Amanda Grove, Megan Slater and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, and terrific video work from Daniel Kontz. And Durkin's direction does a good job of switching between live acting and video until the two realities seem to merge.
Glass, Shattered makes some good observations and has some intriguing moments, and while it's not satisfying, it's certainly admirable.
Glass, Shattered runs through June 22, 2013, and is presented by The Renegade Company at the Philadelphia Church of the Crucifixion, 620 South 8th Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students/seniors/under 30, and are available at the door or online at therenegadecompany.org.