According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


A stripper, complete with a heart of gold and two dueling suitors, brings Dostoevsky’s The Idiot into 1990s East Village street life – but what else is new?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Reviewed by Cait Weiss

There are a couple of ways to pass English Lit your senior year of high school – you can 1. read the books and take a plethora of margin notes in your extra-special lucky ballpoint pen; 2. check out and hope that the poor starving college grad who penned the synopsis wasn’t feeling maliciously inaccurate that night; or 3. frequent that certain type of Off-Broadway show that gets its theatrical rocks off by mirroring the classics in an entirely self-conscious and clearly underlined way. If you choose number 3, well grab your Kipling sac and head for The Storm Theater’s world premier production of Linnea.

Now, before I sound too snooty, keep in mind that I am a big literature fan. True, I find those turn of the century Russians mighty depressing – but any play that adds to my knowledge of novels is okay by me. And, in that sense, Linnea certainly fits the bill. After surviving a full semester struggling through Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I would never (never!) willingly pick up The Idiot on a whim. Linnea however, absolves me of my aversion to this fruit of epileptic genius – the show tells a modern-day version of the classic Dostoevsky story – and how!

Danny, played by a nearly Pollyanna-esque Joshua Vasquez, serves as a 20th century Myshkin, exemplifying kindness, analytical reason and compassion, while Cody, played by a charismatically hulking (if such a thing is possible) Jamil Mena, updates the role of Rogozhin, who in turn personifies all that is hyper-sexual, brutishly lusty and a enjoyable on a Friday night after a pint or two at Mars Bar.

Danny and Cody first meet in a pub, and the two hit it off disconcertingly well – if this is Alphabet City in 1993, I don’t see what Jonathan Larson (let alone NYC’s immense homeless population) was getting all worked up about. This Big Apple is so friendly it forces me to query why anyone would ever want to riot in Tompkins Park. In the disconcertingly rose-tinted eyes of Linnea playwright John Regis, these rabble-rousers should have all just shared a drink, a childhood story, and good joke instead of throwing stones and storming the police force. Who knows; in Regis's pinkeyed perspective maybe a simple tea party with doilies would have sufficed…

Regardless of the eerily sociable nature of the East Village residents (even a homeless man jokes around for spare change and – get this – seems just as happy when no coin is forthcoming), the play darkens into a story of betrayal and competition as Cody and Danny fall in love with the same woman, a stripper named Linnea (played by the limber and lovely Benita Robledo).

I feel I should mention that Linnea is performed in a church located right off Broadway. I say this now because only in a house of God would a stripper (albeit one with a heart of gold, of course) fall in love with a customer (or better yet, even, with two!). Awesome.

However, as sweet as a stripper love story can be, Linnea quickly sours -- while the acting is servicable and the production elements (lighting, staging, and sets) are impressibly effective, the play itself is as devoid of subtext and spark as a Times Square hooker circa 1993. It takes a lot for me to say this, but, despite his allusions to granduer, John Regis doesn't begin to measure up to the man behind The Idiot. Regis bites off more than he can chew and, in this play it seems, speaks with his mouth full. It's too bad he had to make such bald allusions to a work of genius. While I may not love my Dostoevsky, I respect him, and flaws that may be forgivable in an original production become unforgettable in a play that insists on underlying its laughably lofty aspirations.

Still, if you prefer your Dostoevsky distilled and modernized, Linnea will surely do the trick, and will do so with far less complicated character names. Linnea is also worth seeing for its high production value – the lighting in this show is beautiful and its visuals really impress upon the audience just how gritty this nice little city used to be, even if the dialogue doesn’t quite drive that same point home.

I recommend Linnea as a nice addition to the sub-genre of New York plays that deal with the good old days of extremely intimidating East Village street life (see also: Larson’s Rent and Jose Rivera’s stunningly apocalyptic Marisol). And if you’ve got those mid-terms looming and for some odd reason you’ve mistakenly assumed pre-Revolution Russian Lit would be an easy A, well, Linnea’s got a heart of gold for you too!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Storm Theater (St. Mary’s, 145 W 46th Street)
Tickets ( $18.00
Performances: January 11th through February 3rd, Thursdays through Fridays at 7:30pm and Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm.

No comments: