Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE GROUNDLING (Axis Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on February 18, 2015

in Theater-New York


Writer/director Marc Palmieri puts together an entertaining piece of theater with his comedy The Groundling, about Bob, the middle-aged owner of a successful landscaping business, who, inspired by Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, writes his own play in sing-song verse and attempts to stage it in his garage. One wouldn’t expect this blue-collar guy from Long Island, played with sincerity but too much unmotivated movement by Robert Leradi, to take an interest in theater. But something about that particular Shakespeare play moves him; he sees it in a no-budget production three times, then hires that show’s director Dodd (the excellent Brian Barnhart) and star Victoria (Kendall Rileigh) to help him put on his creation.


Bob also gets local brother and sister stoners Pete (Benjamin Russell) and Ally (a delightfully impish Emily Kratter), as well as his nearly deaf father-in-law Frank (an underused Jerry Matz) to act and assist. The only one who refuses to have anything to do with the play is Bob’s ornery wife Karen (Eva Kamisky). Married for ten years now, she and Bob haven’t been getting along—they fight all the time—and his play, we discover, is a sentimental retelling of how they met, fell in love, how Bob proposed and how Karen accepted.


Though redundancies slow down the action on about three occasions, mostly Mr. Palmieri’s show moves. There are many funny jokes about bad poetry, the theater, Long Island and its inhabitants. The characters, though familiar, receive solid, if somewhat conventional, renderings by the charming and talented cast. There is a twist at the end, and how predictable—and hence how effective—it is depends on how taken in one is by the show: I am taken in, the twist catches me off guard and I’m moved, while my thus far mostly unimpressed companion sees the thing coming and continues to be unimpressed.


It speaks to Mr. Palmieri’s technique as writer and director that he crafts a dynamic and engaging show. The experience of watching it is enjoyable; it just doesn’t leave much of a resonance. The point about Bob and Karen’s relationship that The Groundling makes is too simplistic and sentimental, so that in the end the show doesn’t feel quite complete. Is the ending supposed to be open? If so, that doesn’t come through. Sentimental too is the fact that Victoria, the reluctant actress playing Karen (Bob’s wife) in Bob’s play, becomes emotionally involved in Bob and Karen’s real life. Dodd’s lust for Victoria is never believable and leads nowhere. Victoria’s initial resistance to doing Bob’s play feels like a token gesture. The post-revelation dialogue between Bob and Karen sounds like it has the sing-song quality of Bob’s play, which takes away from the scene. And the connection between Bob’s play and Love’s Labour’s Lost is flawed, which wouldn’t matter, except that that flaw undermines The Groundling’s concept. Still, overall, it’s an entertaining ride.


photos by John Painz

The Groundling
Axis Theatre
One Sheridan Square
ends on March 8, 2015
for tickets, call 212.807.9300 or visit

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