Clear communication is the key to any relationship, personal or professional, and when that basic tenet breaks down, things can snowball into a great maelstrom before the situation is resolved, hopefully for the better. This breakdown in communication is at the core of any great farce, coupled with mistaken identities, a multitude of slamming doors and the inevitable chase sequence. Such is the case in Under the Knife, the latest play by Peter Zachari, playing at the Theater for the New City located in the East Village, for a limited run from now through April 5th.
[Brief Disclaimer: Once again, I must disclose that Peter is a very good friend of mine, whose shows I have seen (and blogged about), and of which I am a (minor) investor. I am also good friends with cast member Joey Mirabile both of whom I had met roughly four years ago when Peter’s first show Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey To the End of the Rainbow had its world premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival. So it’s quite obvious that I’ve become quite a fan (groupie?) of Peter and his works – as stated before, the opinions and musings stated in this blog are my own, with no influence from the playwright. This is not a formal review or critique – I’m not a critic, I’m just an average theatergoer.]
The play is set in the waiting room of the Mount Canyon Gynecological Medical Building, where finance-strapped Doctor Roe Wade rents out two office spaces – one to a pair of plastic surgeons and the other to a dentist. Unbeknownst to him, he has personal connection with both tenants – one of the plastic surgeons is his ex-wife Marsha, and the dentist is his mistress Deirdre (who curiously bears a striking resemblance to Marsha), and Roe desperately does his best (with the help of his receptionist Cora) to keep the two women from discovering one another. Meanwhile, Roe and Marsha’s son Budd is engaged to marry Bernadette, and arrives to ask his father to help pay for the wedding; however, Bernadette is a staunch pro-life activist (unaware of Roe’s occupation), and Budd does his best to keep this fact from his fiancée. Hilarity ensues when Deidre is mistaken for Marsha (and vice versa) and Bernadette believes Roy (the other plastic surgeon, who is also a recovering sex addict engaged to Marsha) is Roe; amid this inevitable tempest in a teapot is the arrival of Eyphah, an absentminded Holocaust survivor whose sheer presence adds the chaos that ensues.
As in any great farce, there are double entendres, sexual innuendo, cross-dressing, quick exits and entrances through several doors – there are five in total – yet amid the absurdity and seemingly implausible scenarios, there is some basis of reality upon which the events unfold. Roe’s financial instability (accentuated by a brief appearance by an IRS auditor, somewhat appropriate as Tax Day in America looms over the horizon), and the partly mentioned issue of abortion (there’s a running gag wherein the “A” word never fully spoken aloud) are the catalyst that fuels the action. Another key element in farce is timing, which needs to be precise and run like clockwork – Under the Knife has this in spades, with the audience following (with relative ease) the intricate web of misdirection and complications that arise. There is an abundance of pop culture references, (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Star Wars reference) along with the aforementioned double entendres, sexual innuendo (Oprah and O Magazine are utilized brilliantly), and a bit of a cappella singing. There’s also a (probably inadvertent) reference to La Cage aux Folles, in the Budd/Bernadette romance subplot, with Budd (like Jean-Michel) apprehensive of his morally conservative fiancée learning the truth about his father. Perhaps I’m reading more into this than the average theatergoer, or perhaps it’s because of how I initially met Peter and Joey that I picked up this vibe.
The cast is amazing, playing their roles with just the right amount of madcap fervor without it going over the top (well at least not too much) – several cast members appeared in Peter’s previous works and their camaraderie is evident. The most notable performance came from Lori Funk, as both Marsha and Deidre – as the play unfolded, switched between the two roles (each with their unique vocal and physical tics) seamlessly. The clever use of a blackout allowed both characters to inhabit the stage at the same time, and with only the ability of listening to the two characters share the scene, you would have thought there were two different actors on stage, instead of one.
I highly recommend seeing this play – there are only a few performances left – it’s a frantic yet well paced farce with the right balance of melodrama and sincerity amid the usual organized chaos. Adding to the atmosphere is the piped in music from the 1930’s (a common time setting for a farce) – jazz standards and popular hits from that era, giving the play (which is clearly set in contemporary times) a kind of screwball comedy vibe. For more information, visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net/undertheknife.html