Friday, August 21, 2009

Review - Viral (New York International Fringe Festival and Gideon Productions)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Colin (Kent Meister) has a vision. He wants to create a work of art, something truly beautiful that can only be appreciated by people with his particular view of life and death. All he needs is someone like Meredith (Amy Lynn Stewart), a beautiful woman who is planning to kill herself.

Colin, along with his girlfriend Geena (Rebecca Comtois) and her brother Jarvis (Matthew Trumbull), has a particular fetish - he gets aroused by watching someone die. Not a violent or messy death like one would find in a snuff film, but that gentle transition from life to death - the relaxing of the facial muscles, a sigh, a chest that rises and falls, never to rise again. For this odd trio, nothing can be more erotic.

To feed their fetish, and in hopes of creating a film that will sell well enough to support them, they create a website that hints that they run a group that facilitates suicide. Meredith finds them while searching for "painless suicide," and starts chatting with Geena, who monitors the site.

She agrees to meet the trio and is offered a trade - they will provide her what she needs for a quick and painless death, if she will let them choreograph and film it.

Roger's dark comedy is eye-opening and thought-provoking. The most amazing thing about the production is all the laughter it provokes. Granted, there are some truly humorous lines and situations (most of which center around Trumbull's Jarvis). But so much of the laughter seems ripped from your throat by the shock of what has happened onstage. It's less a reaction to humor than a defense mechanism. That it can provoke that sort of reaction in an audience speaks very well of Rogers' abilities as a playwright and of the overall production values of this piece.

The acting is excellent, with particular praise going to the haunting Amy Lynn Stewart as Meredith, who seems fragile and deeply, deeply sad, but has a vein of iron running through her. This comes out in her almost protective treatment of Geena, who is more often than not treated badly by Colin. As Geena, Rebecca Comtois has an almost child-like quality, and a persistant need to please everyone around her. Comtois shines in this role. Meister does an excellent job as the obsessed Colin, and Trumbull gives depth to a character who in a lesser actor's hands could have been nothing more than comic relief. Jonathan Pereira, as the film distributor Snow, oozes violation and creepiness. An outstanding cast all around.

Jordana Williams' direction is taut and effective. From its opening moments, Viral pulls the audience in and doesn't let go. It is an immediate and fascinating production.

Having now seen several of Mac Rogers' plays, I think he is destined for great things. Catch this show if you want to be able to say you knew him when.

Written by Mac Rogers
Directed by Jordana Williams
Stage Manager/Sound Design: Dana Rossi
Set Design: Sandy Yaklin
Lighting Design: Dan Gallagher
Lead Producer/ACR: Sean Williams
Photographer/Publicity Design: Deborah Alexander Photography
Videographer - Viral Trailer: Brandon Cuicchi
Board Operator: Lex Friedman
Social Marketing Consultants: Tammy Oler & Ehren Gresehover
Web Designer: Pete Boisvert

Featuring: Rebecca Comtois (Geena), Amy Lynn Stewart (Meredith), Matthew Trumbull (Jarvis), Kent Meister (Colin), Jonathan Pereira (Snow)

The SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street

August 15th at 7:30 PM
August 16th at 6 PM
August 19th at 3 PM
August 23rd at 10 PM
August 26th at 9:45 PM

Visit FringeNYC for more information.

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