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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy

The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy wants to address an issue that many of us grapple with: what do you do when you long to create art, but are too lazy, and possibly too untalented, to do so? Unfortunately, to answer the question, playwright Jeff Sproul opts for comedy rather than thoughtfulness, and his humor relies on caricature, patching together over-the-top wackiness with characters and situations that are meant to be realistic. The result generates laughs, but not much meaning. The playwright and cast are certainly not untalented; perhaps they’re a little lazy?

Reviewed by Sarah Krasnow

What’s a shortcut-craving wannabe artist to do when he longs to write a show, but lacks the energy (and possibly the talent)? In the case of Mark and Andy, two early twenty-somethings, it’s a matter of staving off sloth as long as possible, enduring a few ego blows and friction between friends, until finally creating, well, something. The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy is a play about writing plays that also contains two plays (actually, one’s a video project that goes kaput). This matryoshka doll effect roots the show in reality: how many Mark and Andy-like experiences has young playwright Jeff Sproul (who also plays Mark) had himself, we wonder. (Of course, he’s far surpassed their capabilities.) The subject preps us for comedy, too; whether it’s writing for off-Broadway or just a high school AV project, most of us can recall the good, the bad, and the ugly that occur during the creative process, and remember it all as the funny.

But combining the funny and the real confuses The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy. At first, we are ready to relate to the humorous and recognizable characters. Andy (played with easy earnestness by Matt Sears) is a true buddy: laid-back, up for anything, and genuinely kind. His girlfriend, Janine, is a reader and writer by hobby whose levelheadedness balances Andy’s tendency to drift. Mark’s a passionate dreamer and entertainment junkie, a guy to whom his favorite movies and TV shows mean so much, he thinks the only way to do something important is to create art himself. But before we know it, Mark inflates to larger-than-life caricature scale, and we find we’re laughing at hyperbole.

When hit with a yearning strong enough to knock him off the couch (the urge to write a cop drama), Mark ends up at Andy’s place, where the two prime the creative pump with an improv game. Though they’re just tossing a ball and making noises, Mark micromanages the game and throws a tantrum, establishing him as a diva-dictator who’ll settle for nothing less than total control and a starring role. True, these types notoriously infest the entertainment world, but Sproul goes overboard condensing the antics into 75 minutes: all in one scene, Mark insults Janine, makes fun of her private journal, tries to get in with Andy’s sister (she thinks he’s a “douche bag”), and freaks when Janine discovers he’s writing a Gossip Girl episode. Later, Sproul punches up the humor with the doomed filming of the inane cop show, full of hackneyed shoot ‘em up sequences and monsters, and during which Mark butts heads with his cast and crew. All the while, Andy and most of the other characters exist in the non-caricature world.

Make no mistake: The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy is an upbeat comedy, and Mark’s exaggerated behavior does not hint at dark humor; rather, it does a lot to make the show funny. However, when some characters fit one style and some fit another, the inconsistency muddles the point of the piece. In a moment of abrupt sincerity, Mark says, “I just want to be creative and good, and I don’t know if I am, and it sucks.” The trouble is, in order to get laughs, the play portrays his stuff as clich├ęd and bad. So I guess it sucks. But what kind of message is that for a comedy?

In the climactic play within a play, Mark and Andy have “turned inward” (read: written what they know) to produce some performance art about how hard it is to write a play. Here, Sproul is taking an interesting risk: not only has he included multiple plays in one work, but he’s set up Mark and Andy’s play to serve as the culmination of the real play. If their play isn’t funny, Sproul’s play isn’t funny. Luckily, our heroes’ performance piece, complete with interpretive dance, is pretty funny, and it keeps the real play from failing, though not from falling short of what it could have been. A little like its title characters, The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy has created something, though less that what it intended.

The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy (75 min; no intermission)
Horse Trade Theater Group in Association with No Tea Productions
Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place)
Tickets: $18; Students/Seniors $15
Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or www.horsetrade.info
Performances (though 8/9): Thursday – Saturday @ 8pm

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