Love Made to Order

It's hard, in a relationship, to resist making over another person, to keep from molding him or her into who you want that person to be. When this happens—when one party is so controlling of the other—many relationships fail. Such is the basic premise of Michael Roderick's Props, one of the shows featured in the 2006 Midtown International Theater Festival. It's an interesting idea that's explored literally in this play, and it works well until the end, when it becomes almost too literal to mesh with the rest of the story. The story belongs to Andrew (Ben Sumrall), a man beleaguered by too many beautiful women. His ex-girlfriend Susan (Jennifer Boehm) is a sultry temptress who demands that he return to her. His lost love is the radiant Denise (Leigh Poulos), who realizes that maybe she hasn't gotten over Andrew as easily as she'd thought. Even his cheerful best friend, Melissa (Amy Lerner), is adorable. As if his life isn't complicated enough, Andrew is developing a serious attraction to Kerri (Corey Ann Haydu). She is lovely and adoring and by all means perfect for Andrew, which makes sense because he made her himself. Kerri is a life-sized puppet that Andrew, a prop designer, has meticulously built.

Most of the play is spent deconstructing Andrew's relationships with Susan and Denise, as well as determining whether Kerri is becoming a real girl or if Andrew is just going insane. The plot is simple and not at all sophisticated in terms of its discussions of love and relationships. Still, it's easy to watch: the young actresses are all pretty and vibrant, and Andrew's earnestness is endearing. Even the recycled device of "mannequin comes to life" is pleasant and engaging, as she's often animated in dream sequences scored with emotional, evocative music.

It's not until the final few minutes, when we get the big "reveal," that the storyline ceases to be so appealing. What seemed to be intended as a surprise ending (which I won't reveal) ended up feeling illogical and improbable in its details. I was happily suspending my disbelief for the story of Andrew and his puppet, but the plot twist made claims I could not reconcile with other information I'd been given and took me completely out of the story.

While the ending was disappointing, Props does have a lot of great things in its corner. Director Moira K. Costigan used the awkward space of the tiny Jewel Box Theater quite effectively. She kept props and scenery to a bare minimum and created staging that was straightforward and uncluttered. Also, William Demaniow's original music, mentioned earlier, did a great deal to influence and enhance the piece's mood. Finally, the program credits a makeup designer—Leetal Platt—who I believe had a strong hand in making sure that all of the ladies truly did glow.

The Midtown International Theater Festival is an excellent place for small companies and new works to gain exposure and experience, and the people behind Props are smart for taking full advantage of this opportunity. The show is well staged with a likable cast; the script contained some inspired writing and some strong dialogue. The production showed a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and it deserves to be recognized.

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