Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Reality" on Stage: Nobody Loves You & The Capables

My kingdom for a show that comes through on its potential.  I've inadvertently caught two shows with reality TV based themes in the past week and both were disappointing--but each disappointing in a unique way.


A slight, satirical musical about the world of reality television, Nobody Loves You has a book by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by Moses and Gaby Alter.  The 90 minute musical is mildly amusing, but at its core, it is a lightweight, rom-com that isn't quite as smart as I hoped it would be.

Jeff's girlfriend (Leslie Kritzer) breaks up with him and heads off to audition for her favorite TV show, Nobody Loves You, a reality TV competition show about finding love.  To win her back Jeff (Bryan Fenkart) sends in an audition tape of his own where he reveals his skepticism for the show itself.  He surprisingly gets cast. His girlfriend doesn't. And yet he stays. Jeff finds himself competing against meathead Dominic (Rory O'Malley), overly aggressive Samantha (Autumn Hurlbert), Bible-thumping virgin Christian (Roe Hartrampf), and sexual free spirit Megan (Lauren Molina) with airhead host Byron (Heath Calvert) and piraña-like producer Nina (again Leslie Kritzer). Behind the scenes is Jenny (Aleque Reid), Nina's put upon Girl Friday, who dreams of making movies that mean something.  Jeff decides to write his dissertation on the reality show and as his negative meta-commentary gains him popularity on the show it also leads him to spend a lot of time in the control booth with Jenny.   Using the conventions of reality TV, the musical sets up characters as opposites who attract, but the show becomes the thing that stands in the way of Jeff and Jenny.

The only outside perspective on the show environment is an über-fan of the show Evan (also O'Malley). Singing the funniest (but most likely to become dated with time) song that is basically his twitter feed with hashtags included. 

Despite the talented cast, I smiled at times but did not laugh.  O'Malley is strong with his triumvirate of unique characters--each distinctive and each with their own comic flair.  Heath Calvert is a hoot as he dials up the shiny, vapidity of his character.  With some good quips and a few zingers, it added up to a pleasant diversion but not much more. It doesn't say anything new about reality TV.  And in essence the reality TV setting is just the MacGuffin for a rom-com and it ends up being a really thin piece overall because of it.  I was expecting a bit more from Moses whose play Completeness was intricate and penetrating.  I found the songs in Nobody Loves You forgettable.  It felt more like a fringe show with a budget.  Rather than feeling contemporary or relevant, it feels like a dated parody with a weak POV.  And that was really a let down when I had such high hopes based on the cast and creative team.

The Capables uses reality TV as the basis to expose a family in crisis--family secrets lead to hoarding behavior which is not ameliorated by the presence of a reality TV crew.  A situation pregnant with human drama but in both writing and direction The Capables fails to deliver.

Jessy Capable (Katie Eisenberg) invites a TV crew of a reality TV show about hoarding to her parents' house to deal with her mother's (Dales Soules) out of control "collecting." A quiet but dutiful daughter Jessy hopes this will help her father (Hugh Sinclair) who's eyesight and health is failing.  A loud mouth director/producer (Charles Browning), a social worker (Jessie Barr), a camera man (Micah Stock) and sound guy (David J. Goldberg) show up and demand TV drama but the family is tight lipped. Desperate for a high ratings episode the crew end up pushing to get a story out of the family but the needed healing does not come from that.

At every turn in The Capables the performers, writer, and director can't quite get a hold on what they are doing.  It's the first play by playwright Jay Stull and it feels like it could use more work.  This show needs a dramaturg stat.  Certain scenes and characters are wholly unnecessary, slowing down the material and not adding anything meaningful to the play.  Director Stefanie Abel Horowitz treats too many scenes with delicate preciousness when the show should be moving at a clip.  Scenes that do not need emotional weight are awkwardly held up on a pedestal and scenes that need levity fall flat.  The drama feels far too manipulated and nothing is given the space to be organic. The humor is left by the wayside or missing its beats.  It just is not funny when it should be.  The subject matter--a family coping with hoarding (a subject close to my heart)--has so much potential but more time is spent in the play on the TV crew, on a useless flashback, and avoiding the emotional story they need to tell.

Of all the characters the only performance I was taken by was Micah Stock as Tommy, the camera man.  He's meant to be a supporting character who takes a shine to Jessy.  But his goofy nature and quiet back story ended up more vibrant and real than the main plot.  His performance sings because he found a rhythm and cadence that was natural, funny, and honest.  I'm putting him on my one to watch list.  Sadly the rest of the cast ended up playing it too loud and broad which was neither funny nor compelling. 

Stull attempts to get into the consequences of a life examined by a reality TV show, where Nobody Loves You just doesn't even bother.  But The Capables does not really take the analysis very far.

But the set design for The Capables is breathtaking.  George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek build a colorful and OCD-inspired hoard (I see your color coordinated organization, says the girl with the color coordinated closet) where toys, Happy Meal boxes, and American flags become a landscape of emotional paralysis and sadness.  The set was a wonderful expression of creativity and talent and I just wish the play and production overall had been its equal.

I received a complimentary ticket to The Capables. 

1 comment:

  1. Did you see GOOD TELEVISION at the Atlantic? It was a really rich examination of reality television and addiction. And it WASN'T a satire.