Misinformation and Mistaken Identity: Musings on Under the Knife – March 29, 2015

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.

Under the Knife poster

[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.]

Under the Knife cast

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

Under the Knife playbill

Hero of This Dream: Musings on Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey To The End of the Rainbow – January 12, 2014

At the heart of every story is a hero (most often a young man) embarking on a journey that will test his resolve and the relationships with those around him, as he encounters and overcomes obstacles, uncovers hidden truths and ends with the hero gaining a greater sense of self and overall enlightenment. This well-known premise is given a fantastically comedic spin in Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey To The End of the Rainbow, currently playing at the Theater For the New City, located in the East Village, for a limited run from now through January 26th, music and lyrics by Peter Zachari and Damon Maida, book by Peter Zachari.

Parker & Dizzy1

[Brief Disclaimer: Once more, I must disclose that Peter is a very good friend of mine, whose shows I have seen and also in which I have invested; I am also good friends with cast member (and choreographer) Joey Mirabile both of whom I had met three years ago when Parker & Dizzy had its world premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival. 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 musical is a clever mash-up of Da Vinci Code and Star Wars with a gay twist, as the titular characters unwittingly find themselves on a quest to find and prevent the secret of the gay Holy Grail from falling into the hands of the evil Mentor. A fellowship of sorts is formed when Parker and Dizzy gain allies who help in their quest across the island of Manhattan, deciphering clues and combating the Mentor’s minions. Loss, betrayal, and pithy pearls of wisdom are bestowed as the journey culminates with an epic showdown leading to good triumphing over evil, and a happy ending for all.

Parker & Dizzy Cast

This production of Parker & Dizzy [as the show will be henceforth called, as the title is really, really long to type out repeatedly] is an updated version of the show that was originally presented in 2011, as there were many topical pop culture references scattered about the show, many of which are no longer prevalent in 2013/2014. Moreover, newer songs were added as others songs were removed for various reasons (the fourth wall is broken near the beginning of act two where a song was removed due to the critics’ observation that it was too sentimental. Whether or not that observation is a true statement remains to be seen, but then again, these are critics we are talking/writing about, so who knows?) There is a new Act Two opening, which incorporated a rousing dance number performed with great alacrity and precision by the cast, as well as a new ending (perhaps rewritten at the behest of those aforementioned critics who thought the ending was too sentimental). While the first production’s resolution was a heartfelt and sweet, the revised production’s ending reminded me of the dénouement reminiscent of Spamalot – very tongue in cheek and perhaps more in alignment with the overall spirit of the musical. Having seen both productions, I liked both endings, though the writer in me enjoyed the quiet, sentimental dénouement of the original; neither is “better” than the other, but they are both brilliant in their own ways.

The score contained a dazzling array of catchy songs, both campy and rousing, among which are (respectfully) “GPeniS” and “Hero of This Dream” – the melodies are memorable, and the lyrics are clever. I certainly hope an official cast recording is made at some point – it’s not often these days where a musical has an original score, not derived from pop songs (though a fantastic mix of pop songs plays throughout the theater before, during intermission and after the show, adding to the overall campy atmosphere so prevalent in the plot). As mentioned earlier, there is a smattering of pop culture references, references to other films such as Ghost, Thelma & Louise, and Mommie Dearest, as well as a whole lot of innuendo throughout, risqué yet never (too) vulgar (though I suppose that’s subjective).  The cast was astounding and energetic, one could sense the joy exuded from their every move (more often than not while wearing four-inch stiletto heels). The set design was minimalist, with a long string of Christmas lights framing the stage area, and the band off to one side; the costumes were fantastically campy as well. An added bonus was the small tables set out in the front row (and a few in the second row) adorned with light pink tablecloth, which reminded me of the cabaret tables that had been set up for the most recent revival of La Cage aux Folles (not too surprising, as Joey Mirabile is also known as “CoCo of Times Square”, promoting that aforementioned production of La Cage in Times Square, which is also how I initially met and got to know him).

I thoroughly enjoyed this revised version of Parker & Dizzy as much as I enjoyed the initial production – funny, campy (in a good way) with fleeting moments of seriousness and sincerity, plus a lot of fierceness and ultimately friendship. For all its glitz and glamour, drag queens and divas, in the end it’s about the endurance and resilience of the friendships the titular pair have, and its ability to overcome anything that stands in its way.

For more information on Parker & Dizzy, please visit their website: http://www.parkeranddizzy.com/

Parker & Dizzy flyer