Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Crumple Zone
Nearly Naked Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Cake, Mary Poppins, On Your Feet, The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus

William Rippenkroeger, Ezra Neighbors,
and Jack Francis

Photo Courtesy of Nearly Naked Theatre
Buddy Thomas' The Crumple Zone is a smart and funny play follows a group of young gay men on Staten Island who are all looking for the perfect romantic relationship but having a difficult time finding it. Nearly Naked Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of this show, which ran off Broadway in 2000, in a production that features a talented cast and spirited direction, and amounts to a comical drama of humor, heart, and an abundance of honesty.

Set in a somewhat rundown Staten Island apartment shortly before Christmas, the play follows the exploits of roommates Terry and Alex. The plot centers on the secretive relationship Alex has been having with the handsome Buck, and Terry's insistence that they need to be truthful about it, or even better yet, end it, since Alex has a spouse named Sam who is conveniently out of town on a tour. That Terry lusts for the rugged and buff Buck, and Sam decides to make a quick stop back home in between tour stops only adds to the dilemma and complications these roommates face.

Thomas' play features fleshed out characters, realistic situations, plus hilarious dialogue and witty one-liners. It also is rather poignant in its portrayal of this group of young people who are trying to find their way in life while navigating the ups and downs of romance and dead-end jobs.

Director Damon Dering does a very good job in keeping the playful comic moments high but also ensuring the heartfelt realistic scenes are truthful. He also keeps the pace taut. The cast features a superb performance from William Rippenkroeger as the long-suffering Terry. With perfect comic timing and line delivery infused with the driest of wit, Rippenkroeger is a laugh riot as the high-strung, put-upon man who always has a put-down at the ready. Even though Terry is somewhat self-destructive, lonely and very bitter, Rippenkroeger creates an empathetic individual you want to see succeed in both life and in love. Ezra Neighbors is quite good as Alex, the man who finds he wants more from life than the relationship he's had with Sam but isn't quite certain which direction to take when he comes to a crossroad in life.

With rugged good looks and a charming demeanor, Jack Francis is adorable as Buck. We also perceive from Francis' quiet but honest portrayal that Buck, like Alex, wants more from his life than he currently has. A. Katen is excellent as Sam, who is ready to fight for what they want but isn't exactly certain what is the best way to go about it. Katen's portrayal is an authentic mix of pathos and pain, but also full of hope and healing. The confrontation that Katen and Neighbors have is heartbreaking, due to their honest portrayals and Dering's pin-point direction. Rick Holya perfectly projects sliminess as the confident trick Terry brings home.

With a cast who know how to get big laughs while also creating honest individuals, Nearly Naked Theatre's production of The Crumple Zone makes for a fun and honest roller-coaster of a romantic comedy that also offers moments of contemplation, a touch of melodrama, and a lot of honest reality.

The Crumple Zone, through November 17, 2018, with performances at Playhouse on the Park at Central Arts Plaza, 1850 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-254-2151 or at

Playwright: Buddy Thomas
Director: Damon Dering
Scenic Design: Damon Dering and Kenneth Anthony
Lighting Design: Hannah Ruebbelke
Sound Design: P. Swartz
Properties Design: Jay Templeton and Ralph Roberts

Terry: William Rippenkroeger
Buck: Jack Francis
Voice of Matt: Devon Nickel
Alex: Ezra Neighbors
Roger: Rick Holya
Sam: A. Katen

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