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, February 19, 2008

Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner?

Thematically, this show is all over the place. Is it a commentary on the craigslist phenomenon or a portrait of a narcissistic artist? Is it an unusual look at domestic violence or the plight of a ghost? The script tries to link all four with a meddling boyfriend and a charming roommate, but doesn't succeed. In addition to not having any focus, this show also lacks sympathetic characters. After spending a good portion of the play waiting to be entertained and enlightened, you won't care when you get both in the end. Too little, too late.
Alana Jackler as "The Ghost" ,Kathryn Merry as "Ginger" and the members of "The Chorus" in Intravenous Theatre's production of DOES ANYONE KNOW SARAH PAISNER? @ The Gene Frankel Theatre Press Agent: Katie Rosin / Kampfire Films PR

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

If you haven't already heard about the craigslist phenomenon, you're probably living under a rock. Once relying almost solely on word of mouth advertising, craigslist managed to pop up in drama several times in 2007 alone. This year, it makes a rather anonymous but substantial appearance in Jennifer Lane's Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner? And although director Elyzabeth Gorman finds a creative way to represent Sir Craig onstage, the real, exhilirating premise of the play doesn't get nearly enough attention.

The play opens with Ginger (Kathryn Merry) tapping away at her laptop with a backdrop of anonymous craigslist (craigslist is never named, but it is obvious based on the depictions) personal ad posters stating their cases. They are cleverly shown in silhouette, appearing high and low behind a panel divided into partitions. "Missed Connections" ads and regular ones are explored and will inspire a chuckle even if you've never visited such a site, but their presentations go on far too long for comfort. Ginger remains engrossed in her perusals, preferring to browse through ads than socialize in the real world, but her brooding demeanor starts to get on her vivacious roommate Ella's (Maggie Benedict) nerves. Ginger, originally from Akron, Ohio, has been living with her roomie in New York for 6 months, and has yet to unpack or make new friends with the exception of her sometime lover Wray (Jason Odell Williams). And I use the term "friends" lightly because the two people in her New York life don't really know her.

Despite Benedict's charm, the stage never comes alive, not even when The Woman (Alana Jackler), a ghost with a horrible wig and terrible gore makeup, starts to visit Ginger. Immediately, your mind will start to go to work trying to figure out the identity of this woman who calls herself Sarah Paisner. For the most part, the script does a good job of keeping the mystery going, but unfortunately, what unfolds onstage puts you to sleep. Becoming lost in anonymity is the center of this play, but it doesn't make for exciting theater. The pacing is slow and you'll start to think that Ginger is as dull as a doorknob until we get to the real reason why her past is so guarded. Ginger is not what she seems, and The Woman doesn't start visiting her by happenstance. Ginger is hiding out in New York to escape her batterer husband James. She's left behind 2 kids in Akron to assume a new identity. Unfortunately, she not only assumes a new identity, she robs one that's already established. Unnerved that James will find her after calling her kids from a payphone, Ginger discovers The Woman, already deceased, in an alley. She surmises that no one could possibly be looking for this woman since she wound up in an alley, so she decides to scar up this woman's face and pass her off as Sarah Paisner, her own real identity. Seemingly a victim in the beginning, by the time the play ends, you'll realize that the real Sarah Paisner has a nasty, narcissistic edge. But you'll have to have patience to last that long, and you'll have to care once you realize what Lane is cooking up. Your interest might fade before that on both ends.

The premise of the play is engaging, but Lane doesn't spend enough time developing it. Rather than finding more places to insert harbingers of the climax, she fills those holes with details that are either uninteresting or veering in a different direction. Sir Craig pops up way too many times in the form of both creepy and earnest personal ads, and the subject of domestic violence is introduced, but not threaded into the plot well. In spite of being a battered wife and having the aberrant sexual streak that is created within her as a result, Ginger is not a very sympathetic character. The attempts to make Merry appear even remotely sexually deviant fall flat due to direction and perhaps her own reservedness. And if she can't drum up any sympathy for being beat up and being desperate, it's even worse for the other, half-developed, characters. As the Woman, Jackler is a half-menacing, half-cackling ghost, but the persona she creates doesn't mesh well with the true identity, or lack thereof, of her character.

Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner? has a good core story, but it lacks focus. At 80 minutes, there's not a lot there to pare down, but there is enough there to be re-imagined. If the playwright spends more time revealing who Sarah Paisner is, perhaps we'll want to figure out the rest. As it stands, the revelation isn't worth the wait. By the time you get your meal, you'll already be fed up with the service.
Through March 2nd.
Tickets: $18. 212-352-3101
Gene Frankel Theatre 24 Bond Street, New York, NY 10012

No comments: