“The Crumple Zone”

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Daft

Play:        “The Crumple Zone”

Group:        Citilites Theatre

Venue:        Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle

Dates:        July 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24

Tickets:    $15-$20; contact 314-773-1879 or www.BrownPaperTickets.com

Story:    Terry isn’t doing too well.  It’s the holiday season, and he’s dragging himself into his job at a diner to pay the rent on his shabby Staten Island apartment because he can’t find work as an actor.  He’s also out of luck in the love department, consistently turned down by Buck, a handsome retail executive who is more interested in Terry’s roommate Alex.  The latter, who has a temporary job as a Santa Claus at the mall managed by Buck, is having an affair with Buck while Alex’s lover, Matt, is out of town touring with a road show.

    Terry wants Buck, who isn’t interested, and Buck wants Alex to commit to a long-term relationship, while Alex considers dumping Matt to move in with Buck.  Add Roger, a libidinous construction manager whom Terry picks up on the Staten Island ferry, and the unexpected arrival home of Matt, and you have the makings of a combustible Christmas celebration.

Highlights:    Citilites Theatre is presenting the regional premiere of this 2000 off-Broadway hit by playwright Buddy Thomas in conjunction with another regional premiere, a one-man musical titled “Songs from an Unmade Bed.”  Each of the five performers under Marsha Hollander Parker’s direction has the chance to make the most of Thomas’ broad farce, doing what he can with the material.

Other Info:    Unfortunately, that material is strained far too often.  Thomas evidently fancies himself a gay Neil Simon, but his writing is much more forced than derivative of any natural development of scenes and situations.  It’s over the top and far more dreary than delightful.

    Keith Thompson has fun with the Jack Lemmonesque role of Terry, as hysterical as Felix Unger and as slovenly as Oscar Madison, a one-man “Odd Couple.”  Thompson is a fine performer and knows how to turn a comic delivery, but the material he works with here just isn’t very funny.

    Similarly, savvy performer Troy Turnipseed seems uncomfortable delivering Buck’s lines, which frequently seem to be coming from another show.  Seth Ward Pyatt seems miscast as Alex, and while he conveys Alex’s emotions satisfactorily enough, would probably work better in the role of Matt.  As the latter character, Antonio Rodriguez delivers the show’s best portrayal, but again there really isn’t much for an actor to delve into in Matt’s rather shallow and thinly developed role.  Devin Przygoda is amusing as the pick-up Lothario, having fun mixing it up with Thompson like one of Simon’s wise-cracking lesser characters.

    GP Hunsaker’s set nicely combines a theatrical motif, with posters of various musicals on the walls, with the holiday setting in Terry’s cramped living room, with complementary lighting by Steven Miller.  Alexandra Quigley’s costuming design ranges from Buck’s three-piece suit to Alex’s frumpy Santa costume, and the sound design by Pyatt and Heather Tucker provides an appealing litany of offbeat holiday tunes as well as snippets from classic Christmas TV shows that Terry loves to hate.

    Thomas has written several plays.  Hopefully, for the sake of artists and audiences alike, his other works are a notch or two above “The Crumple Zone.”

Rating:    A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.