The Siegel Column

Laughing Out Loud at the Midtown Int'l Theatre Fest

Theater festivals tend to be judged less by the productions they currently present and more by their previous productions that have gone on to have commercial success. Based on those criteria, The Seventh Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival has some bragging rights. This very modest Festival (modest compared to The Fringe and NYMF) presented the Leopold & Loeb musical Thrill Me a couple of years ago, a show that went on to have a high profile run this past season at the York Theatre Company where it was extended several times. We trundled over to this year's Midtown Festival wondering if we would find another show with the potential to claw its way out of the festival market and into a commercial run. After all, one can always hope ...

Finding quality plays at any festival is always a matter of luck, so we must have somehow been blessed by the Festival Gods because we came across a winner at our very first show. It's called LOL and we did, indeed, laugh out loud throughout much of the first half of this clever work by Tony Sportiello. The second half takes a well-earned turn into the dark side of its own conceit, and that only enriches the entire experience with a sense of dramaturgical honesty.

Breaking the fourth wall, the play begins with the narrator/protagonist of the piece, a romance novelist named Danny (Greg Skura) warning us quite earnestly that the play that follows has "Lots of sex in it." He hastens to add there is no nudity, but he dryly repeats, "There is lots and lots of sex." Skura's deadpan delivery brings laughter from the audience. From that moment right through to the end of the play, he owns us. His natural, conversational performance sucks us right in. And one of the reasons we trust his performance is because he has provided truth in advertising; there really is a lot of sex in this play.

Advised that he needs to learn what women really desire in a sexual partner, Danny creates an alter ego in the person of Karen (Nicole Taylor) who joins an online bisexual chat room. Soon, Karen is having lesbian cyber sex morning, noon and night and Danny blossoms in the bedroom. But Karen quickly starts to take over Danny's life with both increasingly comic and then tragic results. Though this is not a musical, you will find echoes of City of Angels in the rivalry between Karen and Danny (Think: "You're Nothing Without Me") and, in its sensitive depiction of the dangers of false identities on the internet, you will find resonance with The Dying Gaul. LOL isn't on the level of those two other shows, but then again it doesn't have either their scale or their ambition; this is a simple production with seven actors on stools. But it is very well written and its change in tone is very carefully calibrated by director Jerry Less.

Better still are the lead actors who take this script and run with it. In addition to Greg Skura's strong central performance, Nicole Taylor creates a fiercely comic Karen. In the pivotal role of an emotionally damaged young woman named Jennie, Kari Swenson Riely gives a delicate performance that is as charming as it is vulnerable, and CK Allen is hilarious in a variety of roles, including Danny's boss.

LOL is one of those relatively rare festival entries that has genuine commercial potential. Maybe this will be a show that will be referred to in later years by critics to further reaffirm the reputation of the Midtown International Theatre Festival.

Adam Feldman - Multi-Tasking

Congrats to Time Out NY Theatre and Cabaret critic Adam Feldman for showing audiences that reviewers don't always just sit around criticizing others. He stuck his neck out in two very different and very difficult ways in the last couple of weeks and showed himself not only to be courageous, but also rather talented!

Feldman took on a small but significant role in the most recent production of the Shaw plays that are being so handsomely mounted at the Players Club by David Staller. In this instance, the play was the rarely produced John Bull's Other Island. After a witty introduction by NY Daily News critic Howard Kissel, the play began with an all-star cast. Feldman's scene was against one of New York theater's most imposing and powerful actors, Marc Kudisch. Sporting a delightful Lucky Charms Irish accent, Feldman was genuinely funny in his high comic role. If you didn't know he was a critic, you'd have thought he was a young actor who just nailed his role.

Later that same week, Feldman was on yet another stage, this time as The After Party's substitute host (for Brandon Cutrell) at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Hosting an open mike night takes nerve and the ability to keep up a line of entertaining patter. It also requires some singing. Feldman proved himself to be a fast and quick-witted talker, as well as a ferocious bari-tenor who plants himself and belts. Considering he was a fish out of water, he was swimming pretty damned well, and this despite the modest crowd making his job all the more difficult. No longer can performers squawk, "If you don't like what I'm doing, why don't you try doing it yourself?" He has.

Barbara and Scott Siegel