Friend Art: Theater review by Helen Shaw
It's a bold move to start your production with something deliberately, knowingly bad, especially if you're setting up your own work in contrast to it. That's the first mistake in Sofia Alvarez's limp Friend Art, a queasy little play with an attention-span problem. Art begins with something Alvarez considers ridiculous: a clichéd performance-art solo featuring a woman dressed in black, whispering her fears into a microphone and making sudden grimaces. (Search your ’90s memory, you'll find something similar—Sprockets, or a gag from She's All That.) This scene is the first clue that Alvarez doesn't pay particularly close attention to life itself: It's not the kind of bad theater we see so much these days. However, we are overwhelmed by a tide of weak-tea, poorly observed comedies about young couples in New York. Yup. We get a lot of those.
The writhing artist is Lil (Anabelle LeMieux), and she's taxing her friends' patience with the kind of stuff only friends go to see. Molly (Zoe Chao) and her fiancé Kevin (Aaron Costa Ganis) dutifully attend, but think it's garbage; Lil's ex Nate (Constantine Maroulis) has his own weird relationship to art, having been a one-hit pop wonder. As played by the frequently charming Maroulis, Nate's far too relaxed to worry about concepts of good or bad: He'd rather tumble back into bed with Lil or make a halfhearted play for Molly. The two couples trade allegiances when, utterly violating the character previously established, Kevin decides he wants to produce Lil's next show. There's very little material here, since neither the imperiled relationship nor the actual art-making much interests the playwright. Alvarez's most passionately written dialogue is about how impossible it is to find something to say to Lil after her show—a nice bit, but she needs several more thoughts to make a play.
There may be no way to portray these characters realistically, nor is there much that director Portia Krieger could have done to help. LeMieux plays Lil as much younger than she's written, which may be her way of dealing with the character's sullen self-obsession and abrupt mood swings. Maroulis has only to play louche, and he does well on that note, but Ganis seems to have panicked in rehearsals, and he makes Kevin loud, exaggerated, unreal. Chao just stays doggedly understated; she shows grace under pressure. But the weight on all the actors is great indeed. You feel bad for them. I hope their friends don't come.—Helen Shaw
McGinn-Cazale Theatre (Off Broadway). By Sofia Alvarez. Directed by Portia Krieger. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.