I Drink Therefore I Am

In one corner, a drug dealer pesters a waitress; in another, a mute girl argues with her sister by scribbling retorts on a chalkboard; across the room, an admirer clings to a stud as he babbles about his ex. The lives of these characters and seven others are satirized in Mono (Surf Reality), written and directed by Steven Tanenbaum. Watching the 80-minute show is like channel surfing: The brief scenes, set in a bar, jump from story to story and back again. It’s initially disorienting but gradually intelligible, geared to those with short attention spans. In a further bid to grab the audience, Tanenbaum stages the action around the perimeter of the room, forcing us to turn this way and that. Actors interrogate us stand-up style, sit on our laps, and hand us drinks.

While these diversions keep things lively, the script doesn’t always deliver. Most of the episodes skewer their participants’ self-absorption: a “conversation” in which each party conducts her own monologue; a confession made to someone who’s on the phone with someone else. When a fashion victim (dead-on Adi Terer) demands, “Are you listening to me?” the answer is obviously no—everyone’s too busy yapping themselves. Even the anthropologist, who dictates observations about the others into a tape recorder, would really rather tell us about her past. But Mono is richer (and funnier) when its subjects’ glossolalia reveals not their shallowness but their individuality, like the drug dealer’s drolly macabre fantasy of being embalmed, then filled with candy and donated to an orphanage as a piñata. Especially striking are the musings of the waitress (Alyssa Weiss) on being a smoker (“If I’m gonna stink, it’s not gonna be secondhand”) and, more darkly, on her dying father’s penis.

Like chatting with a stranger at a bar, Mono both rewards and frustrates; by the time you get past the trivial facade, the evening’s just about over. —J. Yeh

A Winter Slay Ride

Toward the close of the International WOW Company’s HyperReal America (La Tea), a professor lecturing on Lacan—shouldn’t it be Baudrillard?—intones, “There are stories all around us, in our minds, in our dreams, even in our children’s books.” Director and nominal writer Josh Fox appears well aware of these myriad tales. Indeed, he tries to include all of them in this sprawling three-hour work about mass murders in a law office and Columbine-like high school. Throughout the script, Fox threads the recurrent line “Be careful with my heart.” Suggested response: “Be careful with my time.”

Based on real events and interviews with cast members, HyperReal America concerns teenage rituals, professional politics, consumerism, drugs, rape, booze, and gun violence. Lots of gun violence. And since the cast of 21 actors play multiple roles, they can die multiple times—the body count in Titus Andronicus has nothing on this show. Many of the actors, though young and relatively inexperienced, display considerable talent, but Fox has allowed their histrionics free rein. The performances—like the text—become mired in self-indulgence.

It’s a pity Fox didn’t keep a sterner grip on his script or actors, as the play does not lack for funny or profound instances, especially the three-Martians-in-a-bar and lollipop sequences. But the avalanche of extraneous text buries them, as does the obtrusive, FM-lite soundtrack. But the music does provide one of the play’s finest moments, an extended absurdist dance choreographed to “We Built This City,” perhaps the finest use of Jefferson Starship since Mannequin. —Alexis Soloski

Sugar Low

Overbearing mothers beware: A bonding weekend away with your unstable adult daughter might just send her irrevocably over the edge. Emma, a casino-crazy parent with a penchant for “constructive” criticism, learns the hard way in Benjie Aerenson’s two-hander, Paradise Island (St. Clement’s), a drama with all the suspense of a Good Housekeeping short story.

Terri, a former makeup artist and failed court reporter, has the wincing, “leave-me-alone” demeanor of a stunted adolescent; even her mom’s compliments give her the shakes. During the course of a 24-hour period in the Bahamas, the two women bicker, play slots, watch a little Geraldo, and bicker some more. A diabetic with a dangerous level of backlogged anger, Terri yields to her self-destructive impulses, plying herself with cocktails and candy bars, followed by insulin chasers—evidently preferring a coma to the incessant maternal nagging.

But then sleep is a legitimate defense against the crushing banality of this disappointing New Group production, soporifically directed by Andy Goldberg. Aerenson’s dialogue tries to paint a portrait of contemporary culture’s vacuity, but ends up seeming as inane as the talk shows the women rattle on about. Unfortunately for the playwright, scoring his obvious satiric points comes at the expense of clandestine truths.

Not that the actors don’t try to inject the occasion with genuine feeling; it’s just that they have so little to do. As Emma, the estimable Lynn Cohen fusses endlessly with her bottle of club soda, hoping against hope it might provide her with an excuse for appearing on stage. Adrienne Shelly faces an even tougher challenge as the whining, thirtysomething wreck drowning (with good reason) in a sea of boredom. Ionesco says that characters in drama should be unleashed onto the stage; these two should be dropped off at the mall. —Charles McNulty