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    Child's play

    A rhyming and dancing approach you might expect to see in children's theater works surprisingly well in "Novel," the enthusiastically presented story of a writer who shares a cabin with the characters from his book.


    The incorporation of poetry and dance into a theatrical production is not quite as revolutionary and avant-garde ("novel," you might say) as Lorca Peress and Multistages would lead us to believe. Indeed, most of the techniques employed in "Novel" are used most often in educational children's theater, by groups like The Shoestring Players. It is sometimes unsettling and often entertaining, though, to see these techniques employed in a very adult play.

    Written by: Nick Belitto.
    Directed by: Lorca Peress.
    Cast: Gena Barwell, Michael Cintriniti and Peter Rezinkoff.
    Music by: Ania Paris and Dean Landon.
    Set design by: Marc Borders.
    Costumes by: Marc Borders.
    Lighting design by: D.A. Strawder.

    Related links: Official site
    Adam Reynaud (Peter Rezinkoff) is a man who has written one successful novel but has had been unable to finish another. He resolves to isolate himself in a cabin owned by his publisher where he will confront his demons and conquer his writer's block or consider ending his life. His writing technique (unnecessarily justified by a minor disability) is to speak into a cassette recorder while pacing the room. As Adam's new novel begins to take shape, its characters manifest themselves for the audience and act out the creation in progress.

    Other than Adam, all characters were portrayed by two actors: a man (Michael Citriniti) and a woman (Gena Bardwell). They moved in and out of their various roles with practiced precision as characters in the novel emerged from Adam's imagination. Lorca Peress directed the Citriniti and Barwell to embrace stylized, exaggerated characterizations in order to allow the audience to distinguish more easily between the disparate realities represented on stage.

    The first act proceeded with a light touch, despite some difficult subject matter. Abusive, unstable parents, sexual dysfunction and alcoholism are all addressed and the specter of a potential suicide is never farther than the loaded pistol Adam keeps in a desk drawer. Peress, clearly aware of how easily this kind of work can slip into pretension and self-importance, inserted enough irony and self-awareness into the tone of the production to keep the audience engaged. The second act was imbued with more gravity, though, and this was at first quite powerful. The shift in tone was most notable and impressive in Bardwell's performance. Her characters retained their absurdist elements but her voice and gaze intensified in subtle ways to indicate that this was no longer a joke. The play itself is probably about ten minutes too long and all the best intentions of the performers couldn't overcome the drawn-out climax. Rezinkoff seemed to be almost hyperventilating in an effort to bring himself to, and then maintain, emotional catharsis.

    The lights and sets were functional, but the original music, by Anika Paris and Dean Landon was extremely effective. If anything, the sound levels tended to stay too low, as if Peress was overly respectful of her actors and the text and wanted to be careful not to overpower them. The text itself is somewhat flawed, with simplistic psychology and some preachiness. In the end, it was the skill and enthusiasm of the actors that raised this engrossing production above the level of a pretty good play about a man writing a very bad novel.

    DECEMBER 26, 2001

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