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The Common Man

Also see Sharon's review of Into the Woods

It reads like the plot of a sitcom: Two kooky roommates -- Leonard, a nebbishy, nerdy, hypochondriac neat freak and Peter, a would-be nightclub singer with anger management issues who telemarkets diet supplements of questionable origin -- are convinced by their fast-talking friend to put up some cash in his "get rich quick" scheme. The boys are told they can get their start-up money if they agree to do a small job for the mob (and these aren't the type of mafia guys whose job offers you refuse) and the next thing you know, our Felix and Oscar find themselves armpit deep in trash bags full of dead parrots, trying desperately to find a safe deposit box key as if their lives depended on it.

Playwright Matthew Klein derives the comedy in The Common Man in equal measures from the outrageous situation and the characters who have to survive it. Klein's world is populated by Brooklynites who speak phrases like, "in the absence of your presence" in a twisted effort to appear erudite, but can still let loose with a spontaneous "Holy shit, life doesn't suck!" when things go their way. Klein appears in the play himself, as Japs, the friend who arranges the mafia job. Japs is a satin-shirt-wearing, crotch-adjusting, mafia wannabe, who talks a good story and somehow persuades his friends to go along with him in this scheme, even after a lifetime of having disappointed them.

Klein's script seems to be experimenting with different ways to get laughs, at one point juxtaposing two unrelated conversations to comic effect when they coincidentally make sense together. And one of the funniest moments in the play is an unspoken bit of business (played to perfection by Kevin Brief, as Japs's loser brother). Not all of the comic material works; there are a couple lines that simply fall flat. Peter's petulant outbursts, for instance, don't play true to character and therefore fail to connect. But the bulk of it plays pretty well, and earns a lot of laughs and chuckles, if not many guffaws.

But Klein's characters are not simply there for their comic potential. They are often extremely self-aware, and easily discuss exactly what went wrong with their lives. There is some beautiful writing here. Klein has saved the best material for himself, and when Japs says, "respect is a fine handmade suit you wear, sewn by the actions of your life," it is all the more effective for coming from a character who has never worn either. These revelations can sometimes get depressing; indeed, The Common Man takes a very serious turn in its second act, leading to much painful self-examination.

Klein's dramatic writing is strong, and it is almost unfair that a play that was so lightly comic at the start turns itself into a serious portrait of a bunch of guys of who just can't get ahead. After all, a man sticking his head in a bag of dead parrots is pretty funny, until you realize it is a real man in there, who deserves better. The Common Man is an uncommon comedy; it begins by inviting the audience to laugh at its cast of misfits, but it ends by asking the audience to feel sympathy for them.

The Met Theatre & Meredyth Hunt presents The Common Man, Written by Matthew Klein, Directed by Stuart K. Robinson. Assistant director Kenny Suarez; Stage manager Jose Luis; Set/Lighting designer Bo Crowell; Sound Designer Steve Shaw; Parrot's designer Judith Woods; Mole Man Robert Hensley; Props/Set Dressing Eileen's Prop Shop; Publicity Phil Sokoloff; Costume designer Madley Katarungan.

Cast:
Kevin Brief - Stanley
Carl J. Johnson - Leonard
Matthew Klein - Japs
Art LaFleur - Slopes
Gregory Littman - Peter

The Common Man runs at the Met Theatre in Hollywood, through March 2, 2002. For tickets, call (323) 957-1152. For more information, see www.theMETtheatre.com


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- Sharon Perlmutter




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