Imagine "Homeland" with a laugh track.
You cannot help but admire the nerve of playwright Jon Kern (a writer for "The Simpsons") in tackling such intensely emotional and divisive material, and fleshing out so vividly the three characters who, in their sparsely furnished Brooklyn apartment, nonchalantly plan to rain destruction on a Manhattan landmark.
But even 12 years after 9/11, are we really ready to laugh at Muslim terrorists? Maybe. There's certainly fun to be had with the sitcom-worthy portion of the dialogue and antics, starting with the play-opening, bombs-in-the-briefs scene. The hard part is figuring out what to do with the sobering, violent stuff that has to follow.
Omar Maskati does winning work as the Pakistani-born would-be bomber who became radicalized after seeing the bimbos and himbos on MTV's spring break coverage (which could make anyone hate America). Kohler McKenzie is terrific as the dopey upstairs neighbor, Jerome, who gets swept up into the dangerous world.
The rest of the admirable cast, along with expert direction by Ed Herendeen and another excellent set by Barber, help make a pretty persuasive case for this radical, unsettling play.
Jane Martin's fast-moving 90-minute work, bookended by suicidal acts, is all about the attempt to find secure mooring in life.
Jake is a big star in superhero flicks, but he longs to prove himself worthy as an actor — and maybe a man — via Shakespeare on the stage. Deborah is the aspiring actress who unexpectedly enters his life, a potentially great Ophelia to Jake's Hamlet, if only she would stop preaching her devotion to Jesus.
A sympathetic portrayal of an evangelical Christian may not be what you expect from a contemporary play. Martin's writing makes the character real and endearing, without getting sticky; even a crazy/funny baptism scene in a Chinese restaurant works. Deborah's other intense commitment — to the theater — likewise rings true, thanks to Diane Mair's beautifully sculpted performance.
Alex Podulke has too much of a Kirk Douglas-like delivery going on, with clenched teeth and sudden volume bursts, but he commands the stage nimbly as the enormously conflicted Jake. The staging is deftly directed by Jon Jory and designed by David M. Barber.
Not everything works smoothly or convinces in the piece, but there is a lot to chew on and, amid the tough stuff, some great humor. Best line: Jake, trying to convince Deborah to accompany him to L.A: "You are beautiful and talented and unbelievably strange. They love that!"
'Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah'
Mark St. Germain's play is set in the grand apartment complex owned by a great silent film star known by her surname alone, Nazimova. Everyone who was anyone could be spotted around the pool or in the villas surrounding the main building.
The plot puts F. Scott Fitzgerald in one of the apartments in 1937, trying to finish a screenplay for MGM and trying to stay off the bottle. To the consternation of Miss Montaigne, an assistant to the studio chief engaged to keep Fitzgerald focused, Ernest Hemingway bursts in, carrying a bottle in each pocket and a whole mess of personal baggage.
The scenario feels a bit forced at times, some of the dialogue a little too quotation-ready ("The good stories write themselves; bad ones have to be written"). But the collision of two literary giants proves awfully entertaining as it opens windows into both men's impulses, doubts and desires.
Joey Collins makes an elegant, poignant Fitzgerald. Rod Brogan gives a convincing, boisterous performance as Hemingway. Angela Pierce adds fine support as Miss Montaigne. The production also features wonderfully evocative costumes (Margaret A. McKowen), a richly detailed set (Barber again), and astute stage direction by the playwright.