Theatre Review Bonanza, Part 2
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog reviewer Michael Snyder is back – and so quickly! – to report on what he peeping-tommed in somebody’s Hogan suite.
“The Sublet Experiment” is, according to its posters and playbills, “a romantic comedy about mis-taken identity,” and, as per its title, it delivers some solid laughs, some not-so-solid writing, and a happy ending. The CU Players production, which went up on November 9th, and goes up again next weekend on the 15th and 16th, is graced by a an outstanding four-person cast and a creative team that takes the play beyond its gimmick.
Sublet’s central feature, you see, is in its staging: real apartments (or in this case, real suites). The play, by Ethan Youngerman, repeatedly asks to what extent our surroundings determine who we are, and engages with that question repeatedly by changing its surroundings several times, from a suite in Hogan this weekend, to an East Campus suite next Thursday and to ADP next Friday. It is certainly a cool concept, but the play itself stumbles when it comes to stepping outside that concept. The play’s best moments are those that most closely approximate real conversations, and the charm of the quick banter early on can’t quite stand up to a rather facile plot that seems to have been written largely to accommodate the concept rather than the other way around.
Lauren Glover’s skilled direction and her wonderful cast more than compensate for the play’s shortcomings. Aware of the script’s problems, Glover helps her actors to give their characters much more personality than the script does. Josh Breslow, ‘CC 08, makes Eric—a guy who places a vague online add offering free rent in exchange for a physical relationship—far more credible than he should be. In fact, one of the play’s major problems—and one that it does confront a bit late in the game—is that the Eric we see on stage does not seem like a guy who would ever post an online add looking for sex. Still, once the play gets going and Breslow settles into the intimacy of the room (he’s a little bit too frenetic at first), he exerts enough awkward charm to make you forget this little lapse in characterization on the part of the playwright.
Toby Mitnik, ‘CC10, plays Harry, a cut-rate villain attempting to steal Eric’s identity by pimping out his girlfriend for information, as a fast-talking fool, an idiot over-burdened with useless information and delusions of grandeur. He’s a silly character, and Mitnik plays him well, without the self-conscious winks to the audience that one might expect. Justin Grace’s Stranger—that’s how he’s listed in the playbill—is a similarly ridiculous character, and carried off with equal aplomb. He’s a silly screwball type and a total pleasure to watch.
The highlight of Sublet, though, is Nessa Norich as Melanie, Harry’s girlfriend who agrees to con Eric and, predictably enough, falls in love with him in the process. Instead of delivering lines, Norich simply speaks with all of the candor and ineloquence of real life (not to mention of Youngerman’s script). She stutters here, or stumbles there, and makes Melanie a reality rather than a character. Even in the script’s worst moments, Norich compensates with just the right amount of unaffected charm, speaking Youngerman’s words with a slight smile as though she—Melanie, not Norich—knows just how absurd they are, as we all so often do in daily conversation. Generally quiet and understated, Norich’s more passionate moments seem as surprising and refreshing to her as they do to the audience.
It’s this unpretentious assurance that makes Sublet such an enjoyable experience. Everything down to the soundtrack, recorded and performed by the Columbia-based band The Kitchen Cabinet, feels right, not too intent on making what is essentially an insubstantial play into anything more. What makes the show so exciting is its ability to include you in the lives of these people without breaking the fourth wall. It’s voyeuristic, sure, but sometimes that’s exciting, especially when the subjects are as talented as these four.