Monday, June 8, 2015

Review: When Favors Backfire

Every artists dream is to be successful. For some, infamy is attached but the goal is to be recognized. Finding success could simply happen by blindly sharing work and then having that work go viral. Such is the case in Sam Marks' The Old Masters presented by The Flea.
The Old Masters follows Ben, an art lecturer and self-proclaimed struggling artist, as he watches the work of a missing friend rise to infamy, an idea he set in motion. Following The Feast in The Flea's programming is an interesting choice as the central character is also an artist. Regardless, Marks' play is a piece that is bound to hit home for the struggling artists of New York. While the play is Ben's journey of self-discovery, Marks throws two women that throw a wrench into his dreams, Olive, the pregnant wife who is active in her goals, and Lara, the newfound money-rolling girlfriend of the missing artist and unintentional temptress. As Ben watches others fulfill their hopes and aspirations, Ben's jealously peaks when he comes up with the idea to take credit for his own. Ben and Olive are at odds from the start. Ben and Lara have odd tension from the start. Both women, though Lara more so, serve more as a device to Ben than a character. It's quite interesting that Marks writes a trio of unlikeable characters. By the time you want to root for Lara, it's too late. The big plot twist Marks employs is quite rationale but bigger hints prior to the reveal may have been beneficial than the out-of-left field reveal.
photo courtesy of Hunter Canning 
Ben was clearly the strongest written character of the script and it was proven through Rory Kulz's performance. Kulz’s journey as Ben filled the spectrum of emotions, from elation to pain. Kulz has a natural ease about him that his explosion later in the play was mesmerizing and raw. The character of Olive is like the boy who cried wolf. Everything is an issue and the end of the world, but when a real issue arises, it's hard to sympathize. This caused an unfortunate monotony in Alesandra Nahodil’s portrayal of Olive. Nahodil tried to find ways to make the pregnant character likeable but Olive’s vulnerable side appeared late. Adelind Horan as Lara played the outsider card well. Her naivety and sincerity allowed for some of the softer notes of the play. While a distinct location was never formally specified, though a Chicago Bears sweatshirt did make a cameo, Horan added a tinge of dialect to Lara, something that Kulz and Nahodil did not. Oddly, it seemed out of place due to the lack of uniformity.
Brandon Stock did a wonderful job using the basement of the space of The Flea. He avoided neck ping-pong as much as possible, keeping his actors glued to a certain area of the stage per scene. Stock kept the action moving and the momentum consistent, allowing the moments of intimacy to breathe. The set by Andrew Diaz begins with a house in renovations. It’s simple yet effective. Though Olive may only be an architect, her couch choice was a little bizarre. Diaz’s decision to divide the open space into two with the kitchen counter was a smart move, allowing lighting designer Jonathan Cottle to focus in on the action.
While the moral of the story may be to find that balance in life or to show the ugly side to jealousy or don't do a favor for your friends, The Old Masters is a reminder that this art world is tough. Marks’ script is not perfect but it’s a captivating evening of theater.