Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: Tonya and Nancy Redux

By Michael Block

They say timing is everything. Between the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the Oscar nominated film “I, Tonya,” bringing back Zackary Grady’s Toe Pick is truly a no brainer. With the Tonya and Nancy story on the mind, audiences are eager for any sort of retelling of this historic moment in pop culture. Playing Dixon Place, and surely beyond if producers are smart, Toe Pick is a theatrical recounting of the whack heard round the world.
The entirely transcribed play by Zackary Grady chronicles the lead up to the whack, the incident, and the 1994 Olympics. Smartly curated by Grady, Toe Pick is a fabulous examination of pop culture and how society looks at it. Using various sources as the dialogue, Grady is able to tell the infamous saga through the lens of media. With over 30 characters portrayed on stage, the major and minor players are present, though some could use a little bit more meat and presence. Directed by Christopher Murrah, Toe Pick is rooted in camp, but seems to shift tone on a dime. Toe Pick inherently is funniest in its campiest moments. While it could be streamlined a tad, the ice skating bit, choreographed by Adam Fleming, is easily the crowd favorite. Preston Martin’s Nancy Kerrigan is near perfection. When the world is heightened, Toe Pick wins gold. When sincerity is introduced, it doesn’t reach the level it needs. Should it be amplified, the piece will be complete. Everything and everyone is big with the unfortunate exception of Tonya Harding. She is the eyes into the world with the framing device, and yet there are moments where she doesn’t seem to be living in the same world as the other characters. Played by Grady, Tonya might need a slight reimagining due to the nature of the show. She is presented as a bit sweet and, shockingly, levelheaded. Highlighting the less lady-like, tomboy nature of Tonya can expose more comedic elements of the character.
Christopher Murrah staged this piece like smoothly. He hit the comedic notes that were necessary to make this play unique. Whether they were outwardly overt exaggerations of characters or having a remote control Zamboni “clean the ice,” Murrah ensured the audience laughed along with the situations. To ensure that the references landed, the personas needed to be instantly recognizable. Costume designer Tyler M. Holland and wig designer Kenneth Griffin nailed it. Whether it was Nancy’s infamous “why” white leotard, Oksana Baiul’s heinous pink costume and unruly hair, or Tonya’s finally fancy Olympic attire, matching these looks to the moments were essential. The only theatrically exaggerated look that didn’t seem to match the world were the reporters suit jackets with the newspaper and magazine shoulders. Compared to the rest, it was a bit jarring. Like drag, reveals get a crowd going and there were many outfit reveals. Saving Nancy’s white costume for the Olympics and not her whack was a bit of a misstep. Murrah made the play move swiftly, and scenic and prop designer Dan Daly made sure to give the assist. Daly provided the essentials to suggest location without being overwhelming. Lianne Arnold’s projection design included elements of the original broadcast scoring, which added an extra boost to the world.
The Tonya and Nancy story is like any classic duo. There’s a protagonist and antagonist. While you could say that circumstance was more of the antagonist than Tonya was, you can’t deny that Nancy Kerrigan was America’s sweetheart. With an image like a princess, Nancy could do no wrong. So how can you make this slightly awkward girl funny? Just ask Preston Martin. Martin was absolutely exceptional and the true star of the show. Between his mannerisms and the uncomfortably unintelligible mumbling made his Nancy brilliant. Jenn Harris as Lavona Golden, Jane Pauley, and Katarina Witt brought her unmatched brand of comedy to these iconic personas. It’s easy to think of a certain someone’s portrayal of LaVona but Harris made it her own explosive character. Cathy Ang taking on a trio of skaters and Connie Chung was the unsung hero of the play. Her comedy was subtle but strong. The fiercest of the utility players was easily Brennan Caldwell. He found ways to separate each of his characters while making you do a double take and question whether it was a new performer almost each time. If you closed your eyes, you might have thought Scott Hamilton and Verne Lundquist were actually in the theater with you. Alas, it was not, it was Kevin Cahoon and Isaac Oliver respectively. Vocally, they were beyond on point.
Toe Pick originally premiered four years ago at Ars Nova coinciding with the previous Olympics. Returning four years later was a smart choice. Toe Pick should not wait another four years to be seen again. With a few fixes, this show deserves to skate on.