Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Saving Throw Versus Love
Get Rich Cheating

part of
The New York International Fringe Festival

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Saving Throw Versus Love

If you don't know what the title of Larry Brenner's new play at the New York International Fringe Festival refers to, you're not exactly its target audience. Though Saving Throw Versus Love masquerades as a romantic comedy for the underrepresented socially awkward masses, it's really just an attempt to show that gamers are people too. And if everything about the show and production, which has been directed by Dann Fink, were as incisive and assured as its first two-thirds, it would succeed on some level for everyone, regardless of whether they think the phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" sounds like a timeless truism or a sure-fire TPK (look it up!).

The premise is tantalizing, to be sure. Sam (Rob Marnell) has just proposed to Carol (Kerry Flanagan) and wants to start a 24/6 life with her—the exception being his weekly Thursday - night poker game with his friends. She's fine with that until she discovers he's not actually playing poker, but rather Dungeo... oops, sorry, Caverns and Creatures, a pen-and-paper role-playing game. Her initial sticking point is that he's playing a female elf—it's not his regular character, he insists!—and might dress up like the fantasy denizens he portrays. But to reassure Carol, Sam invites her to join the game one night and see it's really all innocent, masculine fun.

Which, of course, it stops being the instant Carol becomes involved. A natural improviser and a strong personality, she instantly becomes an integral part of the group, which wreaks utter, hilarious havoc on the guys' carefully structured session. This scene, which consumes about a third of the show's running time, is a masterful example of character-driven comedy, with Brenner and Fink deriving a shocking number of laughs from the way five disparate folks relate to each other. The flames burn brightest between Carol and the group's most intense member, Danny (played to neurotic perfection by Dan McCabe), but everyone—the others are Sam's best friend (Matt Hammond, playing a Dwarven cleric with an impenetrable Scottish burr) and the sensitive-minded Dungeon Master (Michael "Tuba" McKinsey)—makes key contributions to the amusement-rich atmosphere.

Unfortunately, things disintegrate quickly once the game adjourns. Brenner's treatment of its aftermath is nowhere near as sharp as its build-up, and the bizarre (and unbelievable) events surrounding Sam and Carol's wedding ceremony come closer to indicting the geek ethos than embracing it, as the rest of Saving Throw Versus Love does. Even so, well-researched writing and on-target acting from all the performers (Klea Blackhurst and Joe Aiello have brief but memorable turns as Carol's parents) keep most of the show a delight, especially in that sample game, even if they're nowhere near that raucous in real life. (Uh, I've heard.)

VENUE #10: Players Theatre
Wed 18 @ 2 Fri 20 @ 2:15 Sat 21 @ 7 Tue 24 @ 9

Get Rich Cheating

Forget this recession—or any recession. If Jeff Kreisler is to be believed, you can make a mint any time, any place just by tossing your morals and remembering three simple words: "People are dumb." That mantra forms the basis of Get Rich Cheating, Kreisler's one-man "wealth-building seminar" that may be technically intended as satire but frequently seems all too real. In it, you'll learn how to make billions, if not trillions, of dollars by visualizing your goals and exploiting others' weaknesses (including faith, trust, and decency) to bring you closer to them. And because Kreisler isn't shy about naming his mentors—Bernard Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling of Enron, Alexander Rodriguez, Sarah Palin—you'll find his plan of action uniquely, if chillingly, believable.

Adopting a greasy-smile manner that's part Tony Robbins, part Keith Olbermann, and part P.T. Barnum, Kreisler does make for an entertaining and unfortunately enlightening 55 minutes that's likely to depress you only if you still had some faith in America as a land of honest opportunity. There's a bit of audience participation, mostly shouting out your dreams and your most yearning desires for money, and so on. Kreisler's natural likeability and Anne Teutschel's light directorial touch (a music stand and a projection screen, for illustrating Kreisler's points, are the only props of note) keep the outing lively, even when it starts revealing its hand (and spoiling its own fun) a bit too openly as the conclusion draws near. Even last season's flop Broadway play Enron was more subtle in savaging capitalism.

Still, Get Rich Cheating's only significant misstep is that it's tightly tied to Kreisler's book of the same name (including a couple of direct advertisements), which limits a bit how far Kreisler can go. But, hey, cross-promoting is where it's at, right? And besides, as Kreisler would be the first to point out, there are plenty of suckers out there willing to pay for both. Haven't you heard? People are dumb. Get Rich Cheating, however, is about as smart as parody shows (and books) come.

VENUE #16: The SoHo Playhouse
Wed 18 @ 5:15 Sun 22 @ 7:30 Tue 24 @ 2 Fri 27 @ 10

Tickets online at FringeNYC Tickets