Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: A Nightmare in a Seedy Motel

Starting out with a bang is always important. It gets your audience engaged. But keeping that bang going throughout the play, that’s the trick. It’s a challenge that not all plays can successfully tackle. In John Pastore’s Panic at the Riverside Motel, we get that bang but unfortunately that bang wasn’t maintained beyond the first scene.
Panic at the Riverside Motel follows Kaitlin and Jake, a young soon-to-be married couple, and their unfortunate situation when a man commits suicide in their seedy motel room before they can make their drug deal that will help them pay for their expensive wedding. Unsure of how to dispose of the body, Kaitlin calls her wanted brother Billy who’s ready and willing to chop the body in pieces and forget any of this happens. Madness ensues as the motel manager waltzes in, getting wrapped up in the madness, and calls a madcap detective who seems to have walked into the wrong the play. Pastore’s script is one part Tarantino gory story, one part black comedy, and one part farce. Unfortunately where these things should line up, they don’t. The story is clever but when it’s about to gain momentum, it veers right and takes a turn for the odd. The biggest problem comes in the form of Detective Miller. The character, a horrendous detective who is bound to never solve a crime, seems to be lost in this world. If you put Detective Miller in another play, in his own world, he would be wonderful, but he just didn’t fit here. While his character is essential for the end, it’s just not realistic, as established prior to his first entrance. If Pastore’s goal was to let his trio get away with a crime, he needed them to be much smarter. Despite this, Pastore crafts some great moments of comedy, playing into the filth of this motel and allowing for some fun physical gags.
The ensemble of five do their best to float on the surface of Pastore’s script. Olivia Rose Barresi and Michael Orlandi as the young couple give great individual performances but lack chemistry as a couple, probably because we spend most of the play trying to figure out why these two polar opposites are together. Barresi’s hard ass Kaitlin and Orlandi’s pushover Jake lack the backstory that make the plot credible. Thom Christensen as bad boy Billy gives a performance packed with strength, especially when his humility shines through toward the end. Tom Burka as Detective Miller is all over the place. You’re left shaking your head with his bizarre antics.
Overall, the attention to detail throughout the show holds the production back. The first sight gag of the play is the lights rising on Kaitlin and Jake spattered in blood. It’s funny but director Maria Riboli has her actors spend the good portion of the first half of the first scene wiping the blood off their face, which should have been removed after the first swipe of the towel. It’s almost as if they were directed to, when in doubt and have nothing to do, pick up the towel and wipe their face. A key, though strange, piece of evidence that would play in the revealing as the trio being guilty is a orange lollipop that the body was sucking when he blew his brains out. Unless you’re sitting in the first two rows of the theater, you don’t see it and later forget about it when it’s referenced and picked up by Detective Miller. Set designer Jeremy Ciliberto did an ok job creating the seedy motel. It certainly had the dirty quality but the tiniest details were forgotten. The light source in the motel was believed to be an overhead light yet there was not a single light switch in the room. Additionally, there was no attempt to cover or hide the legs of the two moveable walls, reminding us that we were looking at a set and not a hotel. The shining light, pun intended, of the set was the Riverside Motel sign that appeared in act one.
Panic at the Riverside Motel was packed full of potential but just missed the mark, needing more time to fine tune the specifics of the script.

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