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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

ODD a World Premiere,
But Hardly Original

Also see Bob's review of The Time of Your Life

ODD
Malachy Orozco and Ilana Seagull
Anna Marie, a struggling single mother, works as a hospital desk clerk. She is dominated and verbally abused by her 15-year-old enfant terrible, Micah. Micah suffers from ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), hence the title of the world premiere ODD. Actually, I think I mean that in reverse.

I don't know exactly where ODD ranks in severity among the "if he has seven of these ten traits, he has it" childhood mental disorders (ADD, AD, CD and DBD among them), but on the basis of Micah's homicidal behavior, I assume it ranks way up there. I do know that DBD would be a much less workable title than ODD. But I digress.

Anna Marie answers a newspaper ad, hiring the low priced Joe to tutor her son in English. Joe is a mysterious figure, new to the neighborhood, who scrapes together a few nickels waiting tables in a dumpy local restaurant. Joe takes a real interest in all aspects of Micah's life, and simultaneously reawakens passion in Donna Marie.

The fly in the ointment is Ilona, a smart, rich, aggressive and hard drinking high school senior recruited at school to act as mentor/tutor to the underachieving Micah. A product of pathologically neglectful parents, the slumming Ilona's real interest in Micah is sexual pleasure and the exercise of power and dominance.

Joe makes a breakthrough with Micah by turning him on to "Robinson Crusoe." Micah discerns parallels in the relationship between Crusoe and his man Friday, and the one between him and Joe. Joe tutors Micah in the seduction of Ilona, although it is clear that Ilona is the seducer. Anna Marie has fearfully refused to let Micah travel from their Mount Morris, New Jersey, home to the Big Apple. Joe further solidifies his relationship with Micah by offering to take him to the East Village Halloween Parade. Ilona and Joe become rivals for the affection of Micah. Micah concludes early on that Joe cares for him because Joe is "the same as me." However, the smart but evil Ilona realizes with acuity that Joe is a "deadbeat" who abandoned his own child and wants to make up for his shameful behavior by rescuing Micah.

After the lacerating Ilona causes the weak Joe to flee Morris Hills, Micah, now on the road to redemption, is given pages from an unfinished novel which Joe has left behind and, reading them, Micah begins to see himself through Joe's eyes as a person of value.

It is all pretty corny, and we all have read novels and seen plays, movies and television programming with similar stories. Still, it is possible to craft a reasonable play in four to six scenes with characters of sufficient individuality and distinctiveness. However, Hal Corley has failed to do so. Corley has provided a totally clichéd script in two acts and, I kid you not, 28 scenes. The 65-minute first act, and the somewhat shorter second act, each contain fourteen scenes. This is no sprawling historical epic, it is an intimate four-character play. Step right up folks, and see a new (repetitious) scene every four and a half minutes. How many times do we have to hear Micah observe that something is "gay" or "too gay" for us to know that he is homophobic? Mica twice wields a knife, each time threatening to kill Joe. He comes very close to doing so in one of a handful of melodramatic, confrontational scenes late in the second act which, far too late, bring some life to a play which feels far longer than its actual length.

Another problem is that we only know about the histories of the protagonists in the most general, stereotypical terms. Despite the fact that the script is well acted and staged, some details that may be in the script are lost in rambling conversations (four and a half minute scenes and rambling conversations are quite an anomaly, but it is the case.) When Anna Marie reluctantly tells Joe about Micah's father, she says something that made me conclude uncertainly that he may have beat her when they had intercourse. I was unclear on the course of their relationship, or as to whether there even was one beyond the sexual session that produced Micah. I questioned a couple of other attendees at intermission to make certain that the fault was not my own lack of acuity. However, their responses indicated that they were as confused as I was.

As a result of ongoing renovations, Premiere Stages is presenting ODD at its smaller capacity "second stage." Director John Wooten uses this space beautifully, spreading his scenes over an impressively large, airy stage space. The audience is seated on a few rows of seats on two seats of the wide and deep stage. The space has the feel of a black box (the walls are actually covered with black curtains and a number of blue curtains). Most of Joseph M. Gourley's interesting and effective minimal settings as well as the stage floor are covered with handwritten pages.

Director Wooten has obtained excellent performances from all hands. Joseph Adams labors with considerable success to make Joe appear to be a three-dimensional character. There is a great deal of detail in his performance. The wheels in his head do appear to be grinding as Joe tries to work his way through delicate situations until the time arrives when he can no longer cope. However, no actor or director can mask the fact that author Corley has given us a string of clichés that never coalesce into a believable character.

Toby Poser as Anna Maria gives a believable naturalistic performance as a beaten down woman who ultimately tries to restore some joy and passion to her life. My only reservation here is that there is no discernible chemistry between Adams and Poser. The fault may well lie in the script because, as they are written, it is difficult to understand Joe's attraction to Anna Marie.

The neophyte actors portraying Micah and Ilona are exceptional. Malachy Orozco is thoroughly convincing as the ODD addled Micah. While I question the verisimilitude of some of the melodramatic twists in Micah's actions, I believe fully in the passion displayed by Orozco. He clearly believes in Micah, and I believe in Malachy Orozco. Ilana Seagull is powerful as the cruelly evil Ilona. Properly, she does nothing to soften this role. It is not that she thinks of Ilona as evil (that would be bad), it is that her Ilona is concerned about only her own desires.

However, all of the effort poured into this production by Premiere Stages cannot turn ODD into a silk purse.

ODD continues performances (Thursday - Saturday 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) through September 23, 2007 at the Premiere Stages, Zella Fry Theatre on the campus of Kean University, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083. Box office: 908-7377469; online: www.kean.edu/premierestages.

ODD by Hal Corley, directed by John Wooten
Cast<
Micah Donato……………Malachy Orozco
Anna Marie Donato……………….Toby Poser
Joe Eskin…………………........Joseph Adams
Ilona Lawler………………….Ilana Seagull


Photo: Mike Peters


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- Bob Rendell



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