Theater of the Disturbed

In Suburban Peepshow, a pair of cubicle dwellers discuss their ambivalence toward plays, dismissing the genre with the comment "They're not good." In their estimation, the staged shows they've seen pale next to the late 80s/early 90s oeuvre of actor Charlie Sheen. Theaterphobes like these might enjoy Nosedive Productions's latest presentation, a double bill that flays the formulas in films and theater through a deconstructed, absurdist take on popcorn cinema and kitchen-sink drama. The red-draped performance space of the East Village's Red Room sets the stage for this exhibitionist exhibition.

The evening begins with playwright Mac Rogers's theatrical amuse-bouche Trailers. A dizzying number of light and sound cues are employed in this bare-bones depiction of the bare-bones plots of populist films. The action is alternately framed by the proscenium arch (wide shots) and a black cardboard frame (close-ups), with a cadre of actors changing wigs and costume pieces in the background.

This short piece amusingly illustrates the interchangeability of the performers and scenarios in this type of entertainment. Audience members who are still wedded to political correctness might be astonished by the way one particular series of films escalates in shock value. They should remember, however, that Rogers's target is not the group of people involved but the group of people writing inane Hollywood scripts. Anthony Bertram presides as announcer and unwilling enabler to this celluloid trash.

At the end of Trailers, the company exits, with costume and props in hand. A carnival barker appears to introduce us to the Suburban Peepshow that awaits, the freak show that is … ourselves at the dinner table. A mother, a father, and a son have the most natural-looking meal that can be eaten on a stage with prop food. But then the family acknowledges the barker, the fourth wall is broken, and absurdity seeps through its cracks.

It turns out that Bill (the father) may be getting a promotion due to the firing of his colleague Jack. Bill speculates that Jack was let go because of some hidden depravity, and his musings shape the character of Jack as he appears later in the show.

The Playwright appears, as does a co-worker masquerading as the Director. Besides Bill, Jack, and Bill's son Jeremy, all of the characters are named after their function in the script: Office Guy 1, Therapist, Pool Guy, and so on. Bill's affair with New Girl (a new co-worker) sends Mother (Bill's wife) to Therapist, who vies with Pool Guy as potential lovers. When pink-slipped Jack hears of Bill's assumption of his old job, he swears revenge.

Though Bill has a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the show's proceedings, he's only the main character because Playwright has put him in that position. However, even the Playwright answers to the disembodied Voice coming from the light booth. Who's in charge here? Exactly.

Writer James Comtois—who doesn't appear as Playwright but does have a memorable cameo in his show—has an admirably complex concept that sometimes gets away from him. A few scenes stretched to yawn-inducing lengths, and some of the jokes were spread Family Guy-style thin (they played well past the point when they were funny). But this production, when paired with Comtois's previous work, The Adventures of Nervous Boy, shows he has a fine ear for the dialogue and personal problems of his generation, and a dark sense of humor that is willing and able to exploit them.

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