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      The Asthma Conspiracy
    What a lung, strange trip

    "The Asthma Conspiracy" tells the story of an asthma-suffering temp who takes a moment to support every well-intentioned cause imaginable except the campaign for coherent narratives.


    "The Asthma Conspiracy" has its heart in the right place — and in fact, that's the problem. It's a musical about not only asthma but also struggling artists, abused temps, drug testing, environmental destruction, vegetarianism, corporatization, the prison industry and artificial sweeteners. Not that any of those are unworthy subjects, but the play gives a handful of lines to so many important causes that it's ultimately about nothing at all.

    Written by: Chris Talbott.
    Cast: James Engel, Ari Vena, William Broderick, Frank Episale, Sharon Freedman, Ben Winters, Doug Bruha.
    Music by: Tim Robert.
    Band: Rim Robert, Rick Watson, Chris Rossow.

    Related links: Official site
    Theater for the New City
    155 First Ave.
    Nov. 29 - Dec. 2, 2001

    Our story starts with J.J. (James Engel) and Grace (Ari Vena), who (in the play) have an oddball little musical combo, a B-52s-inspired one, maybe, that plays Arlene Grocery regularly. By day, J.J. puts on proper work attire and plays the temp game in various stuffy Manhattan offices. The boss is a self-important creep but the co-worker in the next cubicle has a secret subversive streak — he hands J.J. a flier from the Temp Underground and invites him to join the revolution.

    This is where the play should get interesting — but it doesn't. Rather than the escapades of the Temp Underground, we're treated to some songs, a little romantic difficulty, a touch of asthma anxiety, and a rant about aspartame. (Including links for further research: and We get some snappy lines along the way ("You can't defy Human Resources — they hate their jobs as much as we do!") and some songs of debatable appeal, but nothing that amounts to a coherent story or comprehensible characters.

    To be fair, the crowd on the night I saw the play seemed to downright love it. Then again, they also laughed in all the wrong places as if they'd all gotten good and stoned before the show. Too much aspartame, maybe.

    NOVEMBER 23, 2001

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