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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Crumple Zone at The New Conservatory Theater in San Francisco

Also see Richard's recent review of Bernadette Peters in Concert


The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the West Coast premier of Buddy Thomas's dark comedy The Crumple Zone at their theater on Van Ness Ave. This play was the surprise smash hit of the 2000 Off Broadway season and it was the winner of the New Voices Play Award. Liz Smith called it a "little gem," and the comedy ran for four months to capacity audiences.

The Crumple Zone confronts the love, infidelity and friendship of three gay roommates coming to crisis during one frantic Christmas weekend. It is set in a rundown apartment overlooking a landfill on Staten Island. Terry, an out of work actor, cannot get a job or a date. He is a desperately lonely and very self destructive heavy-set man approaching middle age, reminiscent of Nathan Lane's Buzz in the play Love! Valour! Compassion!. Most of his dialog is bitchy remarks to his roommates or to himself. Most of the time he is swilling cheap vodka and playing referee to a messy love triangle involving his roommate Alex, a fellow unemployed actor who is playing Santa Claus in the Staten Island Mall and who is having an illicit affair with the gorgeous mall manager named Buck. The third part of the love triangle is Matt, who is currently on a musical road tour in a production about vampires. Alex and Matt are suppose to be a couple, or at least Matt thinks they are.

Terry would like to see Buck out of the picture to keep peace in the family. As Terry says to the audience, "My life is pure soap opera and I'm not even a main character in it." Terry would even like to score with the hunk Buck who "has hair from the Final Net Hall of Fame." Of course, this is never going to happen in this roller coaster fast paced comedy that borders on a Marx Brothers movie.

The dialogue is very "Neil Simon" and as Bruce Weber of the New York Times said, "it might have been written by Mr. Simon if he were gay and 40 years younger." The comedy glows with smashing one-liners, mostly delivered by Terry. The Crumple Zone plays as a gay romantic farce mixed with a Dallas-style melodrama. There are some serious moments in the play, particularly in the second act when there are confrontations between Alex and Matt who has returned to the apartment for the Christmas holiday. That dialogue is written effectively as drama with insight and emotion.

P.A. Colley plays Terry. He is one of our better camp comedy actors who has graced many a play at the Rhino Theatre. He is a little too high-strung in some of the scenes since Terry is a complex character and you really only see one side of him. However, he has the best zingers, he projects them wonderfully, and his timing is impeccable. He is outstanding in the second act. When he lip-syncs "Nevertheless, I'm In Love With You," it brings down the house.

The rest of the characters are crafted to serve as straight men for the crazy camping of Mr. Colley. However, the four other actors turn in very fine performances. The confrontation scene between Craig Stein as Alex and Jeff Manabat as Matt is very effective. Terek Cain, who has had some excellent roles in past NCTC productions is earnestly likable and he does have hair that should be in the Final Net Hall of Fame. Jon Gale as Roger has some very good scenes as the trick that Terry picks up on the Staten Island Ferry.

The direction by Stephen Rupsch is right on the mark. He has the timing down perfect and the comedy keeps zooming along with no dull spots. Even the set is good on the small stage; it looks like a run down apartment on Staten Island.

The Crumple Zone runs until January 12 at the NCTC, 25 Van Ness Ave. Tickets range from $18 to $28. Call (415)861-8972 or visit on line at www.ticketweb.com. For more information check www.nctcsf.org. The next production will be The Mystery of Irma Vep which opens on January 9th.




Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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