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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

There Is No Drag Like This U.S. Drag

Also see Bob's review of My Wonderful Day

U.S. Drag

The Alliance Repertory's distressingly perfunctory production of Gina Gionfriddo's U.S. Drag either largely disguises whatever merits that this satirical play might contain or reveals it to be as vacuous and pathetic as the characters it puts on derisive display.

Angela (summa cum laude) and Allison (magna cum laude), recent graduates of Vassar, are depicted as a pair of ditzy, empty headed and lazy bimbos.

The young women say that, rather than do drudge work in the basement of Conde Nast to earn their stripes (they actually were fired from CN, but we are to take them at their word), they are sharing an apartment with Ned, a stiff, wealthy stock broker, with the false promise that they will be throwing parties with their hot fashionable friends. And, when we first meet them, the gals are in the apartment of the off-kilter James, who is obsessed with highly publicized crimes and has brought them there to sign his petition on behalf of a woman on death row for killing her children, for the sole purpose of caching drinks and getting cab fare home.

They next are introduced to Evan, who, in the interest of saving women, heads a group called SAFE, an acronym for Stay Away From Ed. Ed is a serial killer of women. When Angela and Allison learn that there is a $100,000 reward for Ed's capture, they determine to apprehended him.

A particularly loathsome character is Christopher, an author who has a hot, bestselling book, who has written a biographical book about the "toxic" upbringing he received that has wreaked havoc on his life. "(When I didn't make the tennis team,) I said Mother hung me upside down until I blacked out, leaving me in the dark." When questioned by Angela, he admits that that event never took place, adding that it was "metaphorically" accurate, "my mother walked out on me." Now Christopher has been paid "a fortune" for the movie rights. I would like to note here that this story struck me as both humorous and all too reflective of modern reality. However, I found little else that engaged me.

Scenes and ever greater improbabilities abound throughout the balance of this 95-minute, one act play, culminating in a rather silly surprise re: the serial killer. However, on reflection, the manner in which Angela and Allison find success as contributors to the popular culture is a fitting satiric comment on popular culture.

The performances and direction are far below the established standards of Alliance Rep and director Michael Driscoll. There is no subtext in any performance. Kelly Maizenaski (Allison) and Rachel Brown (Angela) give colorless line readings, and blur the distinctions between the two young women. Although it appears that the flippant tone of the early going eventually turns to darker hues, the entire tone of the production remains tepid, casual and lacking in any modulation throughout. The only coloration in the performances are the dark tones provided by David Gazzo in the role of Christopher.

The flatness of the occasion is emphasized by the lack of any visual variation throughout the play's possibly dozen or so settings. A table, some chairs, and some other unspecific properties are employed, but we often do not know whether we are in a restaurant, bar, nightclub, kitchen, street, community center, street, park, indoors or outdoors, even whether it is day or night. This is strongly brought to the audience's attention when late in a scene (late in the play), the dialogue and plot make it clear that the scene has been occurring in a park. There is no scenic designer credited. Tight budgets require imaginative solutions which this theatergoer would happily embrace, but the failure to visually delineate or define any setting whatsoever is a further hindrance to the production. Similarly, the lighting design can best be described as providing light. Even the clothes sometimes appear more out of the home closet rather appropriate to the play.

I do not understand why Gionfriddo has given Angela and Allison such a superior academic background. All of the women whom I know with similar academic credentials are polar opposites of these women. If your experience is the same as mine, you will face a high hurdle in relating to them.

Clearly U.S. Drag is intended to be a witty satire of an ascendant generation of Americans who have an unearned sense of great self worth and entitlement and are completely clueless and self-centered, even in their mindless pursuit of social concerns. It is implicit that they are obsessed by a pandering popular culture which most treasures financial success and celebrity obtained through flamboyance, outrageousness, immorality and reckless behavior.

Gionfriddo takes her title from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. In that book, Burroughs, after mentioning dark locales about the globe that he has experienced, notes "But there is no drag like U.S. Drag." Unfortunately, as performed here, U.S. Drag, and its often lazily arbitrary outrageousness, is more of an extension of its subject than the sharp satire that it aims to be.

U.S. Drag continues performances (Friday, Saturday, 8 pm/ Sunday 2 pm) through June 9, 2012, at Alliance Repertory Theatre at the Studio Theatre of the Union County Performing Arts Center, 1601 Irving Street, Rahway, New Jersey 07065.

U.S. Drag by Gina Gionfriddo; directed by Michael Driscoll

Allison……………………Kelly Maizenaski
Angela………………………Rachel Brown
Christopher………………….David Gazzo
James……………………...Dennis DaPrile
Ned……………………………..Rudy Palma
Evan………………………..Victor Martinez
Mary………………………………..Clare Dill
Christen & Others……………..Eve Canon

Photo: Howard Fischer

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- Bob Rendell

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