Sunday, June 14, 2015

24 (2015-2016: MALLORCA (seen June 10, 2015)

"Friendship, An Imperfect Blendship"
Stars range from 5-1.

Sheldon Bull, a two-time Emmy-nominated TV sitcom writer-director, whose shows include “M*A*S*H,” “Newhart,” and the current hit, “Mom,” starring Allison Janney, is making his New York playwriting debut with MALLORCA, a mildly amusing, old-fashioned, implausibly plotted comedy (leaning toward farce) about middle-aged male friendship. Perhaps if the scattered chuckles, titters, and chortles inspired by its frequent one-liners were amplified by a laugh track, it might seem funnier, but while there were smiles on many faces in the tiny Dorothy Strelsin Theatre the night I saw it, there were very few guffaws.
From left: Brian Russell, L.J. Ganser. Photo: Kim T. Sharp.
This is, after all, a play that tries on multiple occasions to mine comic gold (or should I say yellow) out of men with bursting bladders who desperately need to relieve themselves. In what’s probably intended to be the comic highlight, the only bathroom’s in use so three guys find simultaneous release on a balcony over the Mediterranean, only to discover that they’ve rained on someone else’s head. Sophomoric? Yes. Funny? Depends (groan).

From left: L.J. Ganser, Rory Scholl, Brian Russell, Steven Hauck, Lisa Riegel. Photo: Kim T. Sharp.
The setup takes place in the New York apartment of Stan (L. J. Ganser), where Stan is soon joined by his casual friends Leo (Brian Russell) and Arthur (Steven Hauck). Stan’s upset because his wife’s successful career is threatening their marriage. Leo’s worries over his new import business are giving him colitis. And Arthur, a wealthy patrician fellow who calls his friends “chums,” is preoccupied by a health issue he won’t reveal.
From left: L.J. Ganser, Brian Russell, Rory Scholl, Steven Hauck. Photo: Kim T. Sharp.
Although none of these men is a close friend of the others, they’ve gathered at the urgent request of their mutual friend Julius, who’s purchased very expensive seats for them at the Garden for a Knicks game. Julius is very late, so by the time he arrives we’ve learned that he broke up with his girlfriend and that he’s an unemployed, broke, and emotionally needy loser who lives beyond his means. After he finally appears, the distraught Julius (played by the Patton Oswald-like Rory Scholl) asks the others to go to the game without him because he’s catching a flight to Mallorca, where, as an alternative to killing himself, he’s rented a villa to help him forget that he’s 48, single, and childless. A little later, Stan gets a phone message from Julius saying a woman he met in Mallorca stood him up on a date and he’s going to kill himself.
Rory Scholl, Lisa Riegel. Photo: Kim T. Sharp.
Act two is set in the Mallorca villa, where Stan, Arthur, and Leo barge in, incongruously dressed in suits and ties (the costumes are by Fan Zhang, who should know better), on a mission to stop Julius from ending his life. This farfetched scenario—in which Roberta (Lisa Riegel), the nice woman Julius met, plays a crucial role—works itself out happily (it’s a comedy, remember). In addition to their making progress in resolving their individual problems, everyone gets a good lesson in the meaning of friendship, from Julius, of all people, before heading back to the Big Apple.

From left: L.J. Ganser, Rory Scholl, Brian Russell, Steven Hauck, Lisa Riegel. Photo: Kim T. Sharp.
The basic premise of someone who’s broke paying $600 a ticket so that three of his friends who only casually know each other—and from whom he expects reimbursement—can go to a game while he jets off to Mallorca requires a vigorous suspension of disbelief. Most people would end their friendship with this slug at once, but then there wouldn’t be a play nor a "lesson" to take from it.

Using a simple set designed by Brian Dudkiewicz that serves with only a few changes for the New York apartment and the Mallorca villa—chiefly the replacement of a painting of the Manhattan skyline by one of a Mediterranean beach—director Donald Brenner moves his cast around efficiently. The actors, however, all of them highly qualified, tend to pump up everything as if they’re on a Broadway stage; they’d do much better to tamp it down for the Strelsin’s intimate environment. A drier, subtler approach might even pry some guffaws from the audience’s smiling lips.

Other Viewpoints:

Dorothy Strelsin Theatre/Abingdon Theatre Company
312 West 36th Street, NYC

Through June 21