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.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays

As much fun as you can hope for on a late night out in midtown, Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays entirely lives up to its name.

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Reviewed by Cait Weiss

Before we delve into content and quality, let’s play a game of Pros and Cons with Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays, okay?

Pros: The play was advertised as one-hour long without an intermission. Fabulous.

Cons: The play began at 10:30pm on a Friday night. Wait, scratch that. The play was supposed to begin at 10:30pm on a Friday night, but instead, at 10:30pm, the Chashama was still playing host to Dark of the Moon, a play written by Howard Richardson and William Berney.

Pros: From the sidewalk at 10:30 at night, you could see into the Chashama’s main window and more or less watch another play entirely for free.

Cons: That play, Dark of the Moon, included what looked (from the other side of the windowpane) a fair amount of awkward interpretive dance and very, very skimpy pants.

Pros: I guess you could put the dance and pants here too, if that’s your thing, but, honestly, at 10:30pm on a Friday night standing at 42nd Street and Third, well, I wasn’t about to stand and ovate for metaphorical jazz hands and minuscule chaps.

Cons: Once finally seated in the theater, we were waylaid another half-hour for some unexplained reason.

Pros: The cast and crew filled up the time by handing out free wine and Coors Light (something they should definitely discuss with the major airlines of America).

Once the play actually began, around 11:15pm, I was not ready to enjoy myself. I had been teased, liquored up and put on hold, and this really wasn’t my absolute favorite way of starting a weekend. I braced myself for disappointment.

Oh, how could I have been so wrong?

The Ateh Theater Group’s production of Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays is perhaps the most delightful show I’ve ever seen Off-Broadway. The cast’s energy is infectious, and, for a young group, the actors were able to be playful and ridiculous without seeming at all self-indulgent – quite an impressive feat.

The production, directed by Carlton Ward, is enchanting. Ward tends to veer towards a more meta reading of Alan Ayckbourn’s script and these ballsy choices pay off – the play begins with the actors literally shoving one another out of the way as soon as a role is introduced by our narrators (the hilarious Ben Wood and incandescent Sara Montgomery), evoking memories from improv workshops and investing the play with a sense of freshness and vivacity that eludes all but the most rewarding mainstream theater.

Once the parts have been divvied up, we get the storyline. Suzy (played by the formidably expressive Alexis Malone) lives in England with her mother, Mother (played by the long-legged Madeleine Maby), and her dog, Neville (played by the inexhaustible Charley Layton). Soon a stranger moves into the deserted mansion next-door. Mr. Accousticus (played by Ryan Tresser) is that stranger. Finally Ms. Passerby, a drunk has-been played Elizabeth Neptune (also the play’s jaunty pianist), rounds out the cast of characters and polishes off the whisky while she’s at it.

Tresser and Neptune stand out as the show-stealers, as much because of their one-upmanship for absurdity as for the fabulously odd material with which Ayckbourn has blessed them. Still, Malone’s stiff upper lip is enough to make even the deaf old woman in the back crack a smile, and both Layton and Maby emanate likability onstage.

Eventually the plot line leads us all into a maze – and I say “us all” because we really are involved here. Our narrators ask us where Neville and Suzy should go each time there’s an option, at one point following our advice so far as to kick the two out of the theater and back on to 42nd Street. Thank goodness we came to our sense and voted them all back in, or we would have missed the madcap culmination of an hour’s worth of incredibly good fun. And that would have been nothing but one massive Con.

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Chashama (217 East 42nd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue)
Tickets ( 1-212-868-4444): $10.00
Performances: May 25th through August 3rd.

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