Not So Magnificent

Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock once said about his craft, "Cinema is life with the dull bits cut out." Playwright Jonathan Calindas, author of The Magnificent Mr. Vincent, playing at the John Houseman Theatre Studio A, has created a play illustrating the flip side of that quote. Cuchipinoy Productions, a fresh, new theater company founded in 2002 by Rutgers graduates, has taken a great risk in producing a work that spotlights a dull character with a boring life. Their heart is in the right place, and there are real truths to be found within this jumble of random scenes, irrelevant characters, pointless monologues, and mind-numbing dialogue. You just have to look hard for it.

The main character, Vincent, is anything but magnificent. He is a Rutgers college student majoring in computer science, even though he later confesses that the thought of having a computer-related job is depressing. One day he writes a song, sings it at a college hangout, gets a standing ovation, and decides he wants to be a famous songwriter.

He does not change his major in college, does not pursue a musical career, and confesses that he's never really in the mood to write music. Yet he spends the next two years of his life obsessing over the need to write a second song as good as his first. When he graduates from college, he immediately gets a high-paying job working with computers, which, as he predicted, makes him suicidal with grief.

Here the play strikes its strongest chords of truth. Before the reality of a 9 to 5, windowless-office job sinks in, the bright-eyed college grad falls in love with his cubicle, office supplies, and company voice mail. He speaks in front of CEOs in conference rooms and is astounded to earn their respect. His best friend and former band drummer, Jack, also finds success as a businessman and gives a dead-on accurate monologue about the horrors of a New Jersey Transit commute. These are the moments where the story shines. Slowly, the college dreams of rock stardom fade away as cold reality replaces them.

But after this, the story loses its footing. Woven throughout the story is an excessive number of monologues that are wordy and unnecessary. Often they describe pivotal plot moments that should be seen in action. When Vincent matter-of-factly recounts these moments after they have happened, they do not feel important.

To make matters worse, the dialogue spoken between the characters is frustratingly bland. Vincent's conversations with friends sound like this: "How are you?" "Good. And you?" "Good." "Really?" "Yeah." "Good to hear." These slow-paced conversations, stuffed with pregnant pauses between the words, often last for an entire scene before dramatically fading to black, as if something extremely important has just been said.

The focus of this two-hour-and-20-minute play is solely on Vincent. Unfortunately, he spends his days sitting miserably in either a park or office and having idle chats with friends and co-workers. For this reason, he is not an interesting character to watch or listen to.

Even worse, he often admits to not being as passionate about making music as he is about receiving the fame and adoration that come with it. Because he is not a famous songwriter who is written about in Rolling Stone, he declares his musical pursuits worthless. His whiny, passive course of inaction cuts through the heart of this play's central conflict. If he doesn't care enough to even try for his dreams, what makes his story worth hearing?

However, this is not to say the actors and production staff did not do the best they could with the material. This troupe of young Rutgers alumni all majored in some form of theater arts and immediately started pursuing their dreams within their field upon graduation. That in itself is praiseworthy, and their effort to get this play off the ground is commendable. I hope for their success much more than I do for Mr. Vincent's.

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