Vestige Group has the pieces of an interesting puzzle, but most don't fit together
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Sept. 26, 2008
The Off Center, through Sept. 28
Running time: 1 hr, 50 min
Call me quirky, but I like plays in which things seem a little off and normal seems to be a four-letter word. Plays such as the ones José Rivera writes, in which time seems to expand and contract and things you never expect to see not only appear as characters but have major roles to play. Plays like this one, in which the moon disappears from the sky, cows give salty milk, and Marisol is abandoned by her guardian angel, left to fend for herself in a violent, apocalyptic New York so her angel can lead a war in heaven against an old and tired God.
You can call me quirky on this, too, but I also enjoy productions in which I can understand pretty much every word that's said, in which the scenes embody tension simply in the way the actors are physically placed in three-dimensional space, and in which the actors know the material well and, thus, are able not only to push the tempo but also to allow me to hear everything that's important.
While you'll find some of the latter in this Vestige Group production, you won't find enough of it. I enjoyed much of Joshua Oaks' sound design, with its jarring and unusual music and environmental highlights, but directors Susie Gidseg and Jen Brown allow the subway sounds in the first scene to play so loudly that I couldn't understand much of anything that was said. Granted, that is a short scene, but consider that in another scene, two actors scream an offstage altercation so loudly and quickly that it has the same effect: Little can be understood. Add to this more than one performance in which an actor either says every line at a single tempo or at a single volume, and perhaps you can see that an aural flatness pervades the production. Such flatness could be overcome, partially if not wholly, if the staging provided the variety and contrast that the vocal presentation lacked, but Gidseg and Brown tend to work with rather than against the strong parallel lines of the Off Center's basically proscenium stage. They have their actors primarily stand in straight-line configurations or actually set up scenic elements, highlighting the rectangular aspects of the boxlike space. Thus, almost all of the staging appears two-dimensional. While these aural and visual choices might be conscious and based on some aspect of Rivera's script, they still worked against rather than for the effectiveness of the presentation.
Some aspects of Vestige's Marisol work well. Slides of mostly sculpted and painted angels assist in establishing mood for the scenes. Andrew Varenhorst brings his usual sincerity, sensitivity, and clarity to the role of Lenny, a shut-in with insight that belies his mental imbalance. Bastion Carboni impresses as a man literally falling apart, and Emily Pate brings a disarming vulnerability to the title character. Best of all, the actors as a group push the tempo as hard as Rudy Giuliani pushes 9/11. Vestige has the pieces of an interesting puzzle, but on the night I attended, most of them simply did not fit together.