Sunday, May 20, 2007

Review - My Inner Mark Berman (Theater for the New City)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

In his program notes, Evan Laurence, creator and star of My Inner Mark Berman, dedicates the production to Charles Ludlum and Everett Quinton of Ridiculous Theater fame. It’s no wonder. My Inner Mark Berman has a very Ridiculous Theater vibe; in many ways, it’s a throwback to the wonderful, over-the-top, mind-bending downtown theatre scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The play follows Mark Berman (Evan Laurence), a mild gay man so disheartened by life that he gives up and becomes Cricket Santiago, a flamboyant and glamorous drag queen. This is enough to get him institutionalized. Enter the wise and stoic Rabbi (the marvelous David Slone, Esq.), a psychiatrist brought in by the scheming Head of Hospital (Danny Smith). With the help of transsexual Nurse Sass-Poo (Christopher Noffke) and a well-endowed superhero called Sgt. Misconception (Richard C. Lurie), the Rabbi realizes that Cricket is more than what she seems. Where he expects to find merely a figment of Mark Berman’s imagination, he discovers dimensional shifts, alternate realities, ancestral ghosts, and other things that he longs to explore, despite his strict religious upbringing.

Will the Rabbi face his ghosts and learn to open himself to the universe’s myriad truths? Will Nurse Sass-Poo find love and contentment as she becomes her own woman? Will the evil Head of Hospital get it in the end? Will Mark Berman ever return? And seriously, what is up with Sgt. Misconception’s codpiece? These questions and many more get answered by the end of the show. Well, maybe not the codpiece one, but what is life without mysteries?

The play is marvelously absurd and features songs both amusing and touching. The acting is strong with outstanding performances given by David Slone, Esq., Danny Smith, and Christopher Noffke. Noffke, in particular, has both a wonderful voice and expressive face; his Nurse Sass-Poo is the highlight of the show. Laurence, though amusing as drag queen Cricket and appropriately pathetic as Mark Berman, seems dwarfed at times by the giant personalities of Slone and Noffke. There are moments when Cricket is larger than life and fabulous, but to hold her own against the Rabbi and Nurse Sass-Poo, she needs to be that and more for the entire show. Smith, reminiscent of a younger Chris Kattan, is a remarkably physical actor, with almost a dancers’ control over his body. His Head of Hospital is a work of evil genius, though it is his Kishka Meldstein who receives the best reaction. Lurie’s Sgt. Misconception is one of the more absurd inventions in a play full of them. He plays his part with the eagerness of a puppy, though like Laurence, he tends to be overwhelmed by the other actors. Lurie has a good singing voice, although at times his parts were out of his range.

If there is one overall problem with the show, it is the pacing. The play runs approximately 80 minutes. Despite that, it seems much longer due to a couple of scenes that seem extraneous, overly long blackouts, some awkward blocking, and problems with timing. Director Richard Mazda could have tightened the show considerably, and should have considered removing the intermission entirely. It interrupts the momentum of the show, and from an audience member’s standpoint, isn’t really necessary.

Despite these few flaws, My Inner Mark Berman is a fun and surprisingly introspective show. For those hankering for a taste of some downtown New York theatre of old, My Inner Mark Berman is a good choice.

Written by Evan Laurence
Directed by Richard Mazda
Music and Lyrics by Evan Laurence
Music Produced and Arranged by Richard Mazda
Stage Manager: Ryan Schmitz
Choreography: Tana Leigh Pierce
Assistant Director: Katie Braden
Sound/Lights: Mi Sun Choi

Featuring David Slone, Esq (Rabbi), Richard C. Lurie (Clown/Sgt. Misconception/John Smith), Christopher Noffke (Nurse Terry Sass-Poo), Evan Laurence (Mark Berman/Cricket Santiago/Young Rabbi), and Danny Smith (Head of Hospital/Hipster/Kishka Meldstein).

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue