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    Namesake Short Play Festival

    Make it a double

    The Namesake Short Play festival features 14 works about people with doubles, some contrived to forcibly fit the theme but many of them clever and occasionally moving.


    After memorably sending up Shakespeare's "King John" this summer, Doppelgang Productions is back with a tribute to itself, or at least its own name. Every short play in the Namesake Short Play Festival has something (sometimes something tenuous) to do with the idea of doubled people. Inevitably, a few of the pieces fall short, but there's a lot that's eye-opening or simply fun in this program.

    Company: Doppelgang Productions.
    Includes individual plays: "Doppelgangers" by Dori Appel; "Really?" by Malachy Walsh; "What I Knew Then" by Christopher DePaola; "Hermes' Mother: A Masque" by Philip Cuomo; "Howard" by Mark Harvey Levine; "Talk to Me" by Judy Klass; "Bridesmaid" by Clay McLeod Chapman; "Monkeyshines" by Dori Appel; "Doppelganger" by Simon Heath; "Spoilt Milk" by Judeth Oden; "The Homunculus" by Stacie Dugan Vourakis; "A Man With a Limp" by Victoria Libertore; "Not I" by Ted LoRusso; "Have You Met My Brother" by Christopher Buckley
    Cast: Victoria Castro, Vanessa Marlowe, Tal Messeri, Nikki Alikakos, Carrie Ellman, Michael Tomlinson, Frank Perozo, Philip Cuomo, Maureen Porter, Susan Estes, Jef Cozza, Richard Brundage, David L. Carson, Varick Boyd, Stephane Penn, Yvonne Roen, Troy Rohne, Melissa Munden, Gerard Nazarian, Lee Eypper, Amy Ellenberger, Culley Johnson, Eddy Nelson Rivera, Coco Medvitz, Seth Wachtell, Heather Grayson, Jayson Spence, Joe Whelski, Mary Workman, Janaki, Rebecca Lupardo, Jason Eiland, Richard Ezra Zekaria, Wade Bowen, Tom Knutson, DeBanne Browne, Gabriel Vaughan, Matt Steinberg, Keri Meoni.

    Related links: Official site
    Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center
    107 Suffolk St. north of Delancey
    Oct. 15-26, 2002

    The highlight (of Series B, which I saw) is the closer, "Have You Met My Brother," a farce about two parents who decide to have themselves a clone, and not a tedious little baby one but a nice teenage football-hero one.

    "I picked out a name!" announces Dad excitedly as they watch the indicator on their clone pregnancy kit.

    "Don't you think it's a little soon?" worries Mom.

    "Rigel!" cries the proud Papa.

    "Oh, I like it!" says Mom. "It reminds me of that other boy we used to have."

    Turns out, this pair — played with just the right touch of middle-American loopiness by Tom Knutson and DeBanne Browne — has already gone through at least one natural Rigel and who knows how many artificial ones they've whipped up since then. Of course, transplanting a member of the family is just an invitation to trouble, and there's plenty of that as the play proceeds. It's a gentle skewering of domestic insanity by Christopher Buckley that stays light and clever. The clone is played with a kind of naive Buster Keaton quality by Gabriel Vaughan, and Matt Steinberg and Keri Meoni round out the capable cast.

    "Not I" is a perfectly done little sketch that was the original inspiration for this short-play project. Two identical-looking men in plain white shirts, black pants and muted ties bump into each other on the street and discover they have more in common than just their clothes, from their names right down to the co-workers they're having affairs with. This kind of mirror-image act must go back at least as far as the silent-movie era, but it still works. Ted LoRusso's dialogue is strikingly clever and actors Richard Ezra Zekaria and Wade Bowen (pictured above) carry it off with impressive precision.

    Namesake Short Play Festival  
    "Spoilt Milk" is another highlight, though it's not certain that it really belongs in this particular program. Again, we have two identically dressed men (Jayson Spence, Joe Whelski), but their job is to sit in contemptuous silence at matching kitchen tables while their wife (Heather Grayson) dutifully serves them a nice, wholesome breakfast. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Our health is the most important thing we have!" she gaily reminds her man, to only a stony response.

    Soon, hints creep in that there's trouble in paradise, and by the end there are intimations of all-out household warfare subtly woven into the monologue. Judeth Oden's engaging script is given a moving, and slightly comic, performance by Heather Grayson, who, as it turns out, can crack you up with just a package of Oreos. (Which are not the most important meal of the day, it should be pointed out.) From time to time, she and the spotlight flow from one breakfast table to the other and focus on one or the other of the matching husbands. This has the feel of an important artistic decision, but it's more likely just an adaptation of the play to fit the "Doppelganger" theme. Ultimately, the play would work just as well with only one husband, and in fact one of the two we have here is clearly a third wheel at the end. But it's an excellent piece of work by a new playwright and talented cast.

    "A Man With a Limp" is likeable and well acted, as actress Rebecca Lupardo sets a vampy mood with the surprising opening line "I like a man with a limp." It's another play that barely seems to fit the theme, but the sultry atmosphere is appealing.

    Two of the plays are much less successful. The program opens with a play called "Doppelganger" by Simon Heath, which starts intriguingly enough as two pairs of white-collar workers — including two who are doubles of each other — spy each other from opposing office-tower windows. One couple is enjoying a moment of mad office passion and the other pair is enjoying the show. Suddenly, circumstances cause one of the spectators to crash through the window and plunge 30 stories to the ground. Notably among the cast, Amy Ellenberger makes the most of a role that demands a brave performance — the woman who's pressed up against the window watching one man fall to his death while her identical lover is busy right behind her.

    But the script doesn't do right by this promising psychological setup. It's filled with wide-eyed gee-whizzery and alternate-universe babble, giving the impression that the author just cherry-picked a few otherworldly concepts that he thought were cool and tried to wow the audience with them. You know the concept has run out of gas when one character is showing another one a sensory illusion and the only response he has is "Wow!" and "Weird!"

    The other segment that doesn't work well is "The Homunculus," in which a woman (Mary Workman) discovers that she's had a little twin living under her skin and tormenting her all her life. Some snappy dialogue at the beginning turns into an obvious single joke at the end, and the character of the examining doctor is badly overplayed by enthusiastic actress Janaki.

    Series A also includes some eye-catching works. Two of note: Philip Cuomo, who was a comic standout in the company's production of "King John," has written his own play "Hermes' Mother: A Masque." And Clay McLeod Chapman — whose twisted monologues of the macabre have been performed under the titles "The Pumpkin Pie Show: Rise Perverts Rise," "Broken Boughs" and "The Pumpkin Pie Show: Big Top" and collected in the book "Rest Area" — has contributed a one-woman piece called "Bridesmaid."

    OCTOBER 25, 2002

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  • Ezra Zekaria   from Sweefa!, Jul 7, 2003

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