Is Arpeggio a farcical look at our culture’s dependence both on electronic distractions and the consumerism driven by our obsession with celebrities? Or is it a drama about one slightly off-kilter girl’s unhealthy fixation? Is it a tragedy? A murder-mystery? A meditation on the isolation inherent in modern urban life? Even several promising performances can’t save Arpeggio from collapsing under the weight of all of the above.
Photo by Vanessa Lozano
Reviewed by Ilena George
When Midwestern Gerry (Allison Ikin) moves to New York, she does so alone: without friends, a job, or an apartment. After moving in with Zeb (Andy Travis), a neurotic writer who does not watch television or listen to music because “We fill our lives with this stuff that keeps us from thinking,” Gerry finds a devoted friend in Zeb and an arch-nemesis in Zeb’s childhood friend and current employer, pop singer Cindy Hall (Kristina Kohl). Part of why Zeb allowed Gerry to move in was because she was not as instantly wowed by Zeb’s connection to a celebrity as most of his prior roommates had been. Eventually, Gerry confesses that she is unmoved by Cindy’s celebrity because she is the secret girlfriend of soulful crooner Tobin Grey (Jonathan Albert). Or is she?
Punctuated by live music by Tobin and his band, one of the themes of Arpeggio is separating out truth and reality from the gossip and confabulation that surrounds celebrities. As Gerry, Allison Ikin embodies the perfect mixture of innocence and latent insanity. But once the initial mystery surrounding Gerry’s claim is resolved, the main thrust of the story remains the rivalry between Cindy and Gerry. Waiting for the escalating tension between them to erupt is not nearly as suspenseful as parsing out the enigma Gerry presents.
Although Zeb and Gerry’s interactions can be engaging and entertaining, the other characters feel shoehorned into the story. This is particularly true of Zeb’s boyfriend, Ricardo (Marino Antonio Miniño), whom Gerry marries in order to allow him to remain in America. But his tendency to rant about the country’s unfair immigration policies feels as though it belongs in a different play entirely.
The play is not quite intimate enough to be a piercing look at one girl’s fixation on a particular celebrity. Nor does it effectively hold up a mirror to the generation of twentysomethings looking for their place in the world: Gerry and Zeb’s on the nature of our unnamed generation and the fact that teenagers drive the economy as the biggest consumers of pop culture are sometimes insightful but more often stilted. “We define ourselves by our taste in music rather than our politics,” Zeb says. This flavor of conversation you might sample on the floor of a college dorm room at 4 am, but is perhaps not the most engaging way to make a point outside that venue. Nor was it a skewering of the over-the-top nature of celebrity lifestyles and society’s devotion to them. However, one moment that more successfully lampooned the current state of pop culture, especially pop music, was Cindy’s solo act, where she sings “Shopping Around,” while dancing with a chair. The fact that Cindy is much older than her target audience, her overtly sexual dance moves, and the song’s lyrics, (“I get my kicks shoppin’ around./Baby, that’s just how it is./A new voice speaks and I like the sound/Variety is sung in my key.”) which are a pretty fair, even generous, approximation of something you might hear on the radio, make for an entertaining opening to the second act and one that makes several points about the music industry without necessarily spelling them out for the audience. But soon afterwards, with the addition of a melodramatic murder-mystery, the play tries to wear too many hats. Gerry defined the show’s title, saying, “Arpeggio allows you to hear the truth of each note,” but in Arpeggio, the truths about society come through with static.
Arpeggio by David Stallings, music by Alec Bridges
Directed by Cristina Alicea
45th Street Theatre (354 West 45th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues)
November 1 – November 18
Tickets: $20-$25, (212) 352-3101 or www.theatermania.com
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.