Sunday, August 12, 2018

63 (2018-2019): Review: LESS THAN 50% (seen August 10, 2018)

“And Now for Something Completely Different”

If you’re tired of conventional rom-coms and are looking for something a little different, something pretty funny, and with an unexpected twist, you may find it in Gianmarco Soresi’s self-described “unromantic comedy,” Less Than 50%, at the tiny Theater C at 59E59 Theaters.

Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Gianmarco (if I may), who plays himself, is a tall, thin, bespectacled, standup comedian—father Catholic, mother Jewish—whose big-nosed looks he likens to Jeff Goldblum’s. His semiautobiographical play is influenced by Woody Allen via Annie Hall (considered semiautobiographical by some despite Allen’s disclaimers), which it frequently references. Nor can we overlook his affinity for film writer/director Charlie Kaufman, also mentioned; however, for all the play’s preoccupation with illusion and reality, we never hear the more obvious name of Luigi Pirandello.
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Actually, Gianmarco’s aggressive persona (honesty first, people’s feelings second) is much closer to Larry David’s. There’s even a stealthy “pretty, pretty” slipped in at one point. As on David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” such a personality doesn’t augur well for romantic stability.
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Less Than 50%, a title alluding to the dismal number of marriages that succeed in our divorce-prone age, is an essentially two-character play about Gianmarco’s on-again, off-again romantic relationship with an actress named Laura Catalano. The couple met when they were studying theatre in a conservatory and she was his scene partner in Romeo and Juliet.
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Gianmarco’s unusual setup is to tell his story by presenting it within the context of a standup routine. That is, he addresses us directly as himself, holding a mic and backed by several movable walls with comedy club bricks painted on them: Ashleigh Poteat is the designer, with terrific lighting by Driscoll Otto. The narrative, which covers several years, requires costumer Samantha Rose Lind to provide multiple outfits for Laura, while our hero wears a white shirt and black slacks throughout.
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The 80-minute play alternates between his standup-style explanations and flashback scenes depicting his and Laura’s affair and his writing this play about it while in the process of performing it. Thus we see the ups and downs of the relationship as well as how it’s being dramatized, with helpful advice from Laura herself.

As performed, it’s not as complicated as this may sound: generally upbeat, it has bits of music and dance, lots of amusing lines, occasional profanity, and various theatricalist touches, nicely crafted by director Jen Wineman. Those touches include a sequence imagining the story as a surrealistic sitcom called Gianmarco! and one where the play’s principal actions are reenacted in fast-forward pantomime for an imagined upstage audience.
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The comedy’s situations are more conventional than its format, dealing with subjects like marriage registries, the separation of Gianmarco’s parents soon after his birth, the use of dating services, therapy, getting the play performed at the New York Fringe Festival, Laura’s pregnancy concerns, handling a sprung mousetrap, confronting depression, and so on. Sometimes we’re forced to wonder where the play leaves off and life begins, or vice versa. It’s taken for granted that much of this is fictional but it’s also clear that much of it really happened (more or less).
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Gianmarco wants to confuse the reality of what happens in the play with the reality on which it’s based, making it difficult not to disclose too many spoilers. I guess it’s safe to reveal that, as soon as the play begins, Gianmarco informs us that, because of certain circumstances, the actress playing Laura at this performance will be Laura herself, the actual person about whom the play was written. The veracity of this claim, of course, is belied by the program, but it’s the kind of riff on the play’s proximity to actuality with which the star likes to toy.

Toward the end comes an unexpected development that seems to bring the play to a halt as it makes a strong effort to conclude on a Pirandellian note. I’ll say no more about it other than to point out that such theatrical hanky panky is incredibly difficult to pull off successfully; this one may go a bit too far but, looking back on what's preceded it, you can't say it doesn't fit.
Gianmarco Soresi, Hannah Hale. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The audience when I attended, especially a group of women in their 40s, seemed to find much of the play a hoot; I, though, was more inclined to smile than to laugh out loud. Gianmarco Soresi’s humor, like Larry David’s, clever as it often is, often lacks subtlety and is a bit too self-conscious. Hannah Hale, though, is about as refreshing a comic find as any presently on a New York stage. This petite, baby-faced actress, with the faintest of lisps, is an adorable hand grenade of emotional and comedic shrapnel. Less Than 50% gets 100% out of her.

As for the show itself, let’s give it 25% more than 50%.


59E59 Theaters/Theater C
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through September 1