Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE SHAPE OF SOMETHING SQUASHED (Paradise Factory Theater)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on February 26, 2014

in Theater-New York

SQUASHED HOPES MAKE FOR BRILLIANT THEATER

What a relief it is, what a glorious pleasure for a viewer, after sitting through so much unnecessary theater, to find oneself finally in the hands of an artist and master. You let yourself fall into them knowing that they will catch you and hold you and carry you someplace worthwhile. How refreshing it is to not have to fear being left to wander the ruins of ineptitude, or of being stranded in the desert of the tedious, the lifeless, the superficial. How comforting to know that they will not drop you into an ocean of frivolity, or drown you in a vat of sentimentality. You may not know where these remarkable hands are taking you, but you can sense from the very beginning that both journey and destination are vital.

Talia Lugacy and Monique Vukovic inTom Noonan's THE SHAPE OF SOMETHING SQUASHED at The Paradise Factory Theater.In the case of The Shape of Something Squashed, those hands—delicate and enormous—belong to the great writer and director Tom Noonan. Uncredited as an actor, Noonan also stars as Douglas Whymper, a man of declining years with dyed black hair and a Nietzschean mustache who arrives at a near-empty Off-Off-Broadway theater the morning after a party. Douglas initially finds himself alone on the stage, and noticing a keyboard sits down and begins playing a sad tune; it is, as he explains later, from a musical he’s written about Friedrich Nietzsche. His playing is interrupted by Mona (Talia Lugacy), a beautiful young intern with long wavy hair. She is disheveled in her costume—a red velvet French Restoration dress. We learn that she came from Uzbekistan and is working at the theater to avoid going back, where she says she’ll be stoned to death by her brothers. Mona runs errands, serves as a living theatrical prop because of her magnificent hair, and is responsible, despite her imperfect English, for writing down everything that everyone says at the theater. She is also paramour to both the director Sedge (Grant James Varjas) and to his wife Hermoine (Monique Vukovic), a rapidly aging leading lady of the stage.

Tom Noonan, Monique Vukovic, Grant James Varjas and Talia Lugacy inTom Noonan's THE SHAPE OF SOMETHING SQUASHED at The Paradise Factory Theater.Sedge and Hermoine, both hungover and also wearing disheveled French Restoration costumes, at first mistake Douglas for the limo driver who is supposed to fetch the great theater and TV star Sir Oliver, and bring him to do a table read with them for Canadian producers who are interested in funding Sedge’s new play, provided Sir Oliver is in it. Hermoine and Sedge are arrogant, desperate, cruel, and narcissistic—it’s only after they’ve thoroughly degraded Douglas, as they would any gofer-boy, that he finally manages to tell them that he is in fact not a limo driver but the actor sent to replace Sir Oliver at the reading; the great star, it seems, is not coming.

Monique Vukovic and Grant James Varjas inTom Noonan's THE SHAPE OF SOMETHING SQUASHED at The Paradise Factory Theater.There is a sense of fluidity to the play, an unfinished quality, as though the organism is still in the process of growing; I have a hunch that two weeks from now it will not look the same. This is no shortcoming. On the contrary, this feeling of instability lends vibrancy to the creation, and the emotional force on stage at the newly renovated Paradise Factory is devastating. Noonan calls it a comedy, I suspect, in the same way that Chekhov called his plays comedies—the comedy of human folly, of God laughing at you, of the Universe’s indifference. And although there are a number of funny moments, in the end this is a painfully tragic work (my date was bawling as we left the theater, and she wasn’t the only one).

Performances are inspired and crafted with precision, and the intimate black box staging makes them all the more immediate and intense. Hermoine is a vile throughout, yet Vukovic manages to make her sympathetic without diluting her character’s repulsiveness. Varjas gives Sedge’s hangover existential weight. And Lugacy, besides succeeding in creating for Mona a most authentic-sounding Russian accent, plays her character with a lovely balance of kindness and pragmatism; especially nuanced is her frustration with and admiration for her two capricious masters.

If these three actors are excellent—which they are—Noonan is amazing. Douglass is a model of meekness and timidity, and Noonan, though nearly six-and-a-half-feet tall, manages to make his character physically insignificant, like a shadow or a folded-up suit. At the same time he is magnetic, fascinating to watch. It’s as if when he is on stage all the energy in the theater flows into him, then, enriched, shoots back out. His presence in scenes makes the other actors noticeably better.

photos by Jim Chow

The Shape of Something Squashed
Paradise Factory Theater, 64 East 4th St.
scheduled to end on March 16, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.paradisefactory.org

{ 1 comment }

Katt February 28, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Can’t wait to see you all tomorrow night!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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