The Siegel Column

Finding No Fault with Fault Lines

It's been a long time since a play came along with a plot so sharply written that it could actually catch you by surprise. Fault Lines, a sly and extremely satisfying new work by Stephen Belber down at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is not only cleverly constructed, it's also very funny. Punctuated with laughs that come out of character, rather than out of joke lines, this is a show that deserves to run and run—provided critics and audience members don't give too much away and ruin it for future playgoers.

Just to set the scene, two friends in their late thirties who have been friends all of their adult lives are meeting in a run down bar in order to celebrate one of their birthdays—and to catch up with each other. One is successful and happily married; the other continues to sew his wild oats but is clearly having second thoughts about settling down. The two have the back pool room of the bar to themselves as the dynamic between them quickly becomes apparent. Like many old friends, they have less in common now than they did when they first became buddies. The one thing that seems to bind them together more than anything else is their shared history.

In to the back room comes a third man, a stranger. He butts into their conversation asking more and more personal questions. Who is he? Why is he doing this? At a certain point, the stranger's behavior goes past the line of simply being a bore; he has an agenda. What is it? Things really heat up when the married man's wife enters the bar.

Don't be so quick to think that you've figured this out from the information you've just been handed. You haven't. Even later, when you think you've got it nailed, you'll be wrong again. And the beauty part of it is that when you finally get to the end, you won't feel cheated; the playwright earns every gasp he gets from the audience. He has another play coming to the Rattlestick in November (Geometry of Fire); after this, we wouldn't think of missing it!

Fault Lines is exquisitely acted by its four-person cast. As the two friends, Dominic Fumusa is brashly hilarious and Josh Lucas is dryly superior, while Noah Emmerich is mysteriously dangerous as the stranger. Jennifer Mudge, as the wife of Josh Lucas' character, is perfectly grounded and real in her pivotal performance. Putting the actors through their paces, director David Schwimmer keeps the pace brisk and the stakes high, even when we haven't yet learned just how high those stakes are going to be.

One of the best things about Fault Lines is that it is neither pretentious nor self-important. This is a purposefully small play about regular people who shop at Whole Foods. In every way, it's a breath of fresh air.

The Marvelous Wonderettes: Offers Old Gold Songs and Young Gold Singers

It seems like just about every show that goes into the Westside Theatre on West 43rd Street settles in for a long run. The Marvelous Wonderettes might just be next long-term tenant because this playful bit of rock 'n' roll nostalgia is a charmer. Its chief attributes are a jukebox full of great tunes from the 1950s and 1960s, many of them with terrific vocal arrangements, and a four-person cast that simply radiates talent.

The first act conceit is that this high school girl group is singing at their own prom. In addition, the four girls in the group, plus an off-stage fifth girl, are also competing to be voted prom queen. Each of the girls in the group is given distinct personalities (and the shtick to go with them). Betty Jean (Beth Malone) is the tomboy turning into a woman, Suzy (Bets Malone) is the silly girl with the funny voice, Cindy Lou (Victoria Matlock) is the glamour girl of the group, and Missy (Farah Alvin) is their shy but determined leader.

Roger Bean, who wrote and directed the show, provides just enough jealousy in the form of comic battles between the girls to keep things lively and fun between songs. But it's the 1950s songs—and how great the girls sound together—that really lifts the piece and makes it genuinely worthwhile. Farah Alvin truly stands out both for her acting and her singing. Bets Malone is extremely funny, taking a totally clichéd character and giving her a singular sense of reality; she's a real find. She is not to be confused, for either of their sakes, with Beth Malone who finds a uniquely whimsical attitude in her tomboy character. We have cited her work in the past in both Bingo and Ring of Fire; she once again gives a memorable performance—and she has a killer voice, as well. In perhaps the most thankless role of all, Victoria Matlock plays the popular glamour girl who steals away Betty Jean's boyfriend; she manages to imbue her character with both a sense of humor and a touch of self-doubt.

The conceit of the second act—and a very smart idea—has the story leap forward a decade to catch these same four women at their ten-year reunion, where they've been reunited to sing together one more time. We get to see how there lives have changed, almost all of it expressed through the songs of the 1960s. The entire show is affectionately wrapped in a high school gym turned into a prom set, designed by Michael Carnahan and, especially, in the colorful costume designs for the four girls by Bobby Pearce.

It may not be marvelous. It may not be wonderful. But it certainly is cute, entertaining, and it features some going-places young singers.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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