Kate Russell, Tom Pelphrey and Bryan Fenkart
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
You know you've thought about it. That beloved Game Cube in your hands, or the iPod earbuds that are permanently glued to your ear. You can't live without them, but you're never satisfied because there's always a newer model. Ring a bell? Kevin Mandel explores the television's charming, brain-scrambling and hypnotic prowess in A New Television Arrives, Finally. Based on the very ornate language used to describe the most basic of television programming, it is easy to deduce that Mandel spent a great deal of time pondering the effects of images and radio waves on the frontal lobe. Like an inquisitive child, Mandel takes the TV apart, inspects all of its innards, figures out how they tick and puts it back together again in 90 minutes. And for a good part, his tinkering works.
Guiding Light alumnus Tom Pelphrey stars as the human television set that will perform for anyone who will submit to his instruction. Pelphrey is the American version of the TV, as British actor Victor Villar-Hauser shares the role with him on alternate nights. As the Television, Pelphrey is bombastic, commanding, and infinitely engrossing. He shows considerable range here, adopting various voices and postures to effect clicking channels. His pompadour coif and flashy red suit scream both Americana and Pet Detective. Mandel's dialogue for Television is two-thirds dense, and one-thirds nonsense, but it all comes together to demand a lot of preparation, skill and versatility from Pelphrey that he rises to accommodate.
The saps under his spell are Man (understudy and production manager Ari Vigoda), a mock-sick man that has been holed up in his apartment for 8 days, and Woman (Kate Russell), his 9-5er, unhappy fiance. All too ready to accept his new TV model, Man allows the walking and talking version to come into his home and suck out his brain. What's worse is, like a reverse Adam and Eve, he offers the eye-opening and brain-deadening fruit to his fiance. From there, the couple respond in a hyperactive way to a television that goes from jovial and nurturing to annoying and menacing.
Although the direction by Kevin Kittle elicits strong performances from the whole cast, the pace keeps returning to frenzied and boisterous like a boomerang even though it drags in certain spots. The very little quiet time, used only to demonstrate the devolved connection and passion between the couple, is sorely missed when the noise hits peak level. Although placing the Television set downstage allows the audience to witness the awe on the couple's faces, having the Television face the audience would have been a more effective way to remind them that they too are patrons of this culture monster and should examine their own reliance on gadgets. One cannot help but question why the Television does not have a TV Guide companion to deliver the programming while the Television itself waxes poetic on the importance of “love, love, love.” I am surprised that, due to the excessive attention that he pays to the telephone, Man is not lambasted for his betrayal to the Television. Television does, however, through some temper tantrums. Also, Man applies no logic to removing the Television from his apartment, trying to hoist it out with his might when he simply could have rolled Television out on the rolling table. And even though the audience needs to suspend disbelief about many things for this absurdist comedy, watching the Television drink water is too much to ignore.
Regardless of the imperfections, A New Television Arrives, Finally is clever, funny, and unique. It takes a look at a variety of things that audience members latch on to the TV for, everything from the raunchy (at one point, an elderly couple walked out of the performance when Television became a little too carnal) to the educational. Part cult leader, part mad scientist, and part gigolo, the television is definitely a boob tube in multiple ways. Flip on at your own risk.
Through September 30th. Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios, 12th Floor, 244 West 54th Street(Between Broadway and 8th Ave)New York, NY 10019 Ticket Price Info: $15.00
Order Tickets By Phone:800-838-3006