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Open: 10/22/10- Close: 11/07/10 Critical Mass
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Patrick Garrigan
Erin Unanue ©2014  Zack Hoogendyk (Norman), Leigh Williams (Carrie)

As a reviewer, one can’t help but feel more than just a little apprehensive about seeing a show about a performer who exacts revenge on the critic who destroyed his career.  The paranoia sets in and you begin a mental checklist to count the actors you may have wronged over the years.  Luckily for me, there’s no bloodshed here as Heiress Productions’ mounting of Critical Mass offers a good conversation about the role of the critic in the artistic process and poses the question, “if you have nothing nice to say, is it better to simply say nothing at all?”

In Joanne Sydney Lessner’s Critical Mass, the first winner of Heiress Production’s playwrighting competition, we’re taken inside the brownstone of married opera critics, Norman (Zac Hoogendyk) & Carrie (Leigh Williams).  While delighting over an exchange of incisive adjectives, the accomplished reviewers find their lives turned upside down when Stefano (Aaron Davis), a disgraced tenor with unreliable high notes, moves in with the couple after tandem reviews ravaged his career.  Once inside, Stefano enacts his plan to cause their lives to implode through a series of outlandish antics and calculated manipulations.

Erin Unanue ©2014  Leigh Williams (Carrie) and Aaron Davis (Stefano)

As the scheming Stefano, Aaron Davis is a pleasure to watch.  He delights in his responsibilities and as a result we are excited to join him on the journey to bring about these most diabolical ends.  In contrast however, his wife Francesca (played by Shorey Walker) is distractingly unfocused.  In fairness, much of the show’s farcical elements rest on her shoulders, but in this capacity her multiple characters are imprecise and their associated accents, ever-changing.

Duo critics Hoogendyk and Williams offer grounding and sincerity to this whiz-bang production.  Hoogendyk in particular shines; he has an honest everyman quality that is instantly endearing.  Ms. Williams plays Carrie as a wittier Kathy Griffin.  She exudes a sense of fulfillment in the power of being able to utilize her bully pulpit to shape the face of modern opera.

…and the award for scene stealer goes to Marc Geller as magazine editor, Cedric.  He commands the stage with a Noel Coward-esque dryness that brightens each scene.  He especially stands out at the play’s crescendo as the voice of reason which serves to bring the characters back to Earth with hysterically paternal and maternal overtones.

Donald Brenner keeps the tempos bright and the comedy going.  As a director he seems most confident in funny business sections of the production.  It is the transitions between the broad comedic and more earnest elements of the play that could use a little more polish.  Lessner’s script offers good writing to support both ends of the spectrum, but the challenge for this play is in finding an even way to move between these well-crafted, but drastically different sensibilities with ease.


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Venue:
Lion Theatre @ Theatre Row : 410 West 42nd Street