Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bad Jazz: Really good stuff from Zeitgeist Stage Company

Finally, something you can sit through for an hour and 45 minutes and not even notice there wasn't an intermission. You want it to keep going and going, at the fever pace it established from the beginning of the play and it kept going throughout the entire play, non-stop, boom, boom, boom, boom, bang, clang--the last two notes because it is all Bad Jazz.

The New England premiere of Bad Jazz opened last week at the Boston Center for the Arts for a three-week run. The structure is a play within a play, always fun for an actor like me to watch, but you don't have to be an actor to enjoy this farce, to laugh at the driven, creative "genius" director, who many times is the only one who has a clue about what he's talking about, if he's talking about anything at all, or shake your head at the obsessive method actress who eventually lives her part as a hooker.

All the actors deftly deliver on Robert Farquhar's snappy, cutting script with it's combination of Mamet-like dialogue, one part humor, one part irony, and one part laser-sharp observation on relationships--Noisy improvisation that start out with structure but break down to make something that can only sound and be called bad jazz.

Especially delightful, though, are Kara Manson playing Natasha and Mac Young playing Danny.

Manson plays Natasha with depth and range, taking her character on a journey that starts with an ended relationship, through the fire of the play she inhabits as a tortured young woman looking for love and coming out empty out the other side. My God, Farquhar must have the same love/hate relationship many people in the theater have for the theater.

Young nails the young male actor we've all seen, talented but clueless to the subtlety and meaning of the script due to inexperience in life and, God knows, just plain naivete, but Danny eventually learns a lot more about life, although he never learns to expertly shoot heroin. His final role in the play is purgatory for all actors.

Michael Steven Costello, as Gavin, the megalomaniacal director makes some interesting choices that are fun to watch. Rather than play it dark and brooding, Costello saunters and dances across the stage as his character stabs and thrusts and feints at the world and theater, as he eventually gets his just reward from Elvis, a minor character played by Zachary Winston with relish. Costello plays it almost, but not quite, cartoon-like, which is masterful and works for the entire play except at the very end, where he meets his end. He just needs to tone it down a bit, that's all.

Becca A. Lewis plays a quirky, twisted sort as Hannah, the playwright. She might have the best line in the play, when Danny demands to know what the play is about, and she tells him she hasn't a clue. Lewis also performs a wonderful counterpart to Hannah as Danielle, the producer of the play.

David J. Miller both director and set designer, maintains his vision, and it's interesting to walk into the theater and have some of the audience actually walk through the set to get to their seats. From the beginning we know it's going to be and in-your-face experience. Again, the actors come out like racehorses out of the gate, and don't let up for a minute.

Special notice, too, goes to Jeff Adelbeg for lighting, creating the proper mood and space from the rehearsal theater to Gavin's apartment late at night.

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