Saturday, June 8, 2013

26. Review of THE TUTORS (June 7, 2013)


The Second Stage’s uptown venue is the McGinn/Cazale Theatre on W. 76 Street and Broadway, which I reached during the nonstop downpour that inundated New York yesterday and last night. This is not a very convenient place, requiring that you either walk up four flights or wait eternally for a slow elevator that only takes six people at a time. Even if you take the elevator you can only go to the third floor, and have to climb a flight to the fourth, so people with physical disabilities should take note and stay home or take your theatergoing elsewhere.

The play currently running here is THE TUTORS, written by Erica Lipez and directed by Thomas Kail. It is another play about urban twenty-somethings living in a grungy apartment, nicely designed by Rachel Hauck, and trying to get their lives in order. The three roommates living here (in 2007) are Joe (Matt Dellapina), Toby (Keith Nobbs), and Heidi (Aubrey Dollar). Joe and Toby, former college buddies, scratch out a living by working as tutors for the children of wealthy New Yorkers, while Heidi has an online gig editing papers for foreign students. Their real goal is to create a social- networking Web site that will rival Facebook. The site’s peculiar title is, which the playwright ensures gets some hard critical knocks. One of Joe and Toby's pupils is a bratty, manipulative, but lonely kid named Milo (Chris Perfetti), who inveigles his way into their lives using the power of his father’s money (which Joe seeks to help finance his site), and who turns out not to be quite so dumb as they originally thought. There is also a somewhat confusing subplot about the sexual relationship between the womanizing Joe and the gay Toby. Heidi, a pretty girl whose depressive nature keeps her looking as shabby as her digs, becomes so enamored of the Hong Kong student whose admissions essay she is helping him prepare for Columbia that she imagines him to be a real person, a lover actually, and with whom she not only has full blown conversations but even sex. Later, when she meets the real Kwan, she is so deep into her fantasies it takes her some time before she realizes he is not the avatar she concocted. The play explores the way these characters, whose lives are so tied up with computer-based relationships, have trouble connecting in the non-virtual world.

The play, while offering smart-sounding dialogue, more or less believable characters, and a suitable thematic premise, never got under my skin; it gradually grew tiresome over the course of its two hours and twenty minutes, far too long for the material being dramatized. There is too much uninteresting Web site talk and too little dramatic development to draw you in on any but the most superficial of levels. Heidi’s psychological hang-up over Kwan is  very far-fetched and difficult to accept, except perhaps in the vein of magical realism, which I don’t think is the playwright’s intention; regardless of the way she ultimately manages to befriend the real Kwan, Heidi's previous behavior with his imaginary person should have landed her in Bellevue a long time ago. Fortunately, the acting is fine all around and the visual elements (including the nicely handled scene shifts with the stage darkened except for isolated areas highlighted in neon colors) are satisfactory.
THE TUTORS may interest those fascinated by how start-up Web sites get started up, but others may be strongly tempted to click on the log off button.