Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: Pure Madness

Sometimes an idea on paper sounds like brilliance but when it becomes a reality, it doesn’t quite work as well as you thought. That may be the case with The Golden Smile. Written by Yaakov Bressler, The Golden Smile follows a group of mental patients who decide to create a play to save their rec room. Filled with more dramaturgical questions than can fit in the crayon sock, The Golden Smile is a metaphorical mess. Written like an absurdist comedy, Bressler’s piece features a very loose plot and no clear character development. Bressler grants no backstory to the situation and no exposition into who these characters are. We  don’t know what their illness is nor why exactly they act the way we do. Instead, Bressler provides a script that allows his company to prove that they may have had one too many Red Bulls prior to curtain. The biggest question is that if this institution is worried about violence from their patients, why are they left alone without an attendant? While this simple fact would destroy the “Toy Story” element of the patients virtually coming to life when no one is around, it’s a viable question that you must ponder as you watch. Sure, there is a worker who pops his head in to keep the peace, but his competence could easily be called into question as he continually leaves. So what exactly is the story that these personalities are conjuring up? It’s hard to say. With an overstuffed script with metaphors that make little sense, trying to find the moral within is hard. Especially when you leave still wondering what exactly is The Golden Smile, both title and within the play. The Golden Smile also seems to be confused as to what exactly it is. Is it a play with music or a musical? Using a live band that is dressed in blacks, clearly not living in this world, caused many woes. The Golden Smile could easily eliminate the music entirely from the show. But if the music by Zach Stamp is necessary, Bressler and director Joey Stamp must work them into this world, incorporating the band into the play within the play. Making them patients too will connect the world and give them a purpose otherwise they are merely an onstage distraction. The Golden Smile treads a very fine line of mocking mental illness. To the wrong person, the piece could come across as offensive. Nevertheless, when the characters break into their “actor” roles, the personalities that they adopt are nothing we see prior. Where they come from is essential. While it could tie back into what their illness is, defining this will keep assist the character development.
While the script may be in shambles, The Golden Smile is led by a director with a strong commitment to upholding a vision. Regardless, when presented this material, director Joey Stamp did all he could do. He kept the play moving, clearly strategizing beat to beat. The one choice that didn’t benefit the piece was having the actors haphazardly play on stage during the preshow. We don’t learn anything about them, we simply see them causing a raucous, something that occurs seconds into the play. While Stamp did have his company interact with the house manager, it’s especially dangerous to have an active preshow in a festival setting as it disrupts the flow of the evening due to the preshow announcement.
Regardless of material, the energetic ensemble had fun, owning their characters. While it may be due the sanity factor, the stand out of the bunch was Flynn Harne as Messenger, the hospital attendant, the only slightly sane person. Harne has an outlandish comedic drive, tackling a persona that was reminiscent of 90s Jim Carey. The neurotic nature of Andy McCain’s Writer was overwhelming funny. The means in which he lived in Writer’s body caused him to fling himself for comedy sake. Sofiya Cheyenne and Jody Doo both showed promise as Director and Sarcastic Actor. Compared to the rest of the company, there was something off about Robert DiDomenico’s Loathing Actor. Of the trio of “Actors”, DiDomenico always seemed to stick out or one up the other two rather than being a cohesive unit as you would think the trio should be.
What’s interesting about The Golden Smile is the use of the Critic characters. While one meandered on and off stage, the other was the voice of reason, often saying likely what the audience was thinking. When a character in a play is confused by the rules of the world, chances are the audience is too. Yaakov Bressler could benefit by working with an fresh outside eye dramaturg to help him and his piece along, asking him the questions that must be answers. As it stands now, The Golden Smile is just pure madness.