Nightlife

the october crisis (to laura) (FringeNYC)

by Susan Reiter
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Aug 25, 2008
the october crisis (to laura) (FringeNYC)

There's a bit of false advertising in the title of the october crisis (to laura); while substantial portions of the play take place in Havana, and portions are set in 1962, the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 is only tangential to the action. If playwright Alejandro Morales means to equate the family-identity crisis at the center of the play with that momentous event, that's in keeping with the play's tendency toward melodrama -- not to mention his penchant for self-consciously poetic monologues.

The play, directed by Scott Ebersold, ricochets back and forth between 1945, when Laura Parker, a demure young wife and mother with a desire to make it as a singer, is lured to Havana by the promise of a lively scene with lots of opportunities for making it as a performer. Her husband, recently returned from the war front, stays behind in New York to look for work, but Laura brings her (unseen) young son with her. She resists the wishful attentions of Otto, the sweet musician/arranger who invited her to Cuba and creates the image and act that will lead her to fame. He renames her Marguerite Stone and guides her towards her opening night at a prominent Havana club.

Meanwhile in 1962, Marguerite -- now a hard-bitten, booze-swilling clich? of seen-it-all showbiz veteran, is glammed up for a major New York City gig when she receives a telegram from the now-adult son. Clearly -- though it is never fully explained how this initially devoted mom completely lost touch with her child -- he has not been part of her life for years, and the telegram evokes the memories that fill the two-hour drama, and precipitates the titular "crisis."

The doubling of roles for the past and present men in the singer's life is an effective touch. Julian Stetkevych is persuasive in both the one-dimensional role of the neurotic son, clearly headed for a crisis as he curls up with his record player, listening obsessively to Marguerite Stone records, and as the sympathetic, more nuanced character of Otto, which he plays with appealing subtlely. Timothy Davis brings interesting shadings to the role of Hugo, the 1962 man in Marguerite's life -- the manager/lover who tries to keep her on an even keel and endure his withering barbs -- and the well-intentioned husband Laura leaves behind. Caroline Tamas is believably tremulous and Laura, venturing into new territory, both emotionally and geographically, and sings snippets of standards (accompanied by an effective recorded combo), and Gayton Scott radiates world-weariness and digs juicily into Marguerite's dismissive lines (when Hugo claims "I'm not some star-struck fan" she retorts, "Of course you are; everyone is"). Polly Lee is supremely comfortable on stage but verges on shrillness in the troublesome role of Sophie, a go-between who seems more of a contrivance than a believable character.

The play lurches from scene to scene and could use some streamlining. It veers towards heavy-handedness in portraying the past and present versions of the singer -- placing each of them sit on either side of a dressing-room mirror, or having Tamas stand within a frame for full scenes, serving as a poster of Marguerite's past self that haunts and disturbs her. The emotional payoffs are subdued because we can sense what is coming (the son is gay!!), and know that the mother and son, will, however distantly and sadly, eventually confront each other.

Presented by Packawallop Productions; played through August 18 as part of The new York International Fringe Festival at The Players Theater. See www.packawallop.org.

Susan Reiter is a NYC-based freelance journalist who covers dance for New York Press and writes about the performing arts for The Los Angeles Times, Playbill, Back Stage and other publications.


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