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Directed by Jeremy Torres
Produced by Working Man's Clothes Productions
American Place Theater
520 8 Ave. (22 Floor) between 36 &37 Streets
Opened June 2, 2007
Limited Engagement: May 31 to June 23, 2007
Thur. thru Sat. 8 p.m., $15. (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Reviewed by Brandon Judell, May 31, 2007
Michael Mason playing Max. Photo by Julie Rossman.
After you elevator up to the tiny American Place Theater on the 22nd floor of a midtown building, you'll discover getting to your seat involves shimmying around a bare-chested, cross-legged young man playing a war-themed video game on a TV set in the middle of a living room.This is Max (Michael Mason), a jobless, Tom-Cruise-y-looking slacker who has a way with the girls and the drugs. Not surprisingly then, after tiring of his Playstation antics—he's been joysticking it for over 20 minutes before the play begins—this attractive, 20-something wastrel will inject a low-budget porn video into his player, get a little high, and start jerking off on a rather rancid sofa situated behind a battered coffee table. Sample porn dialogue: "My cock was like a revolver in my jeans. . . .The dirty bitch took off her T-shirt." That's all the action until Max's hefty, socially inept roommate Alan (Jared Culverhouse) shows up with the groceries. The two immediately start bantering a bit as friends often do in an aggressive/passive manner, revealing some truths and obscuring others. Max notes that the last time Alan was with a woman he was in a stroller. Alan tries to get Max to bring him a beer from the kitchen and to use coasters. Max then threatens to screw Alan's prized teddy bears.
All is relatively cordial until the lads' old pal Woody (Cole Wimpee) unexpectedly shows up. It appears Woody has been discharged from the military after serving in Iraq, and has been rewarded with $75,000 for his injuries--or he's just gone AWOL and is broke. Other possibilities are that this uninvited visitor has either been sexually tortured while in the service or he's gone insane or both. (Think "Bug.")
Woody, who has all the limberness of Frankenstein's monster and the verbal finesse of Steinbeck's Lennie Small, is introduced to us as an awkward introvert with demons. What happens when his bogeymen are released generates some of the most frightening live theater I have ever witnessed.
Clearly, the drawing of a bloodied teddy bear on the cover of the playbill for this show is not false advertising.
Cole Wimpee playing Bone. Photo by Julie Rossman.
Apparently, a hit in London in 1993, Brit playwright Anthony Nielson's "Penetrator" couldn't be more pertinent than it is today. According to UPI, "as many as 1 of every 10 soldiers from the war on terror evacuated to the Army's biggest hospital in Europe was sent there for mental problems." That's over a thousand young men who will soon be hitting our shores. And that's just the tip of the mighty iceberg.
About.com alleges that "30% of US troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home." But is "Penetrator" really about war at all? Could it be about homophobia? Or sexual betrayal? Or bullyism? How about everyday male rivalry? Or modern man's emotional numbness? Just think Sam Shepard on high testosterone.
Besides offering up a first-rate play, Working Man's Clothes Productions offers up award-worthy direction by Jeremy Torres, skillful lighting by Jake Platt, and a nigh perfect set by Ace Eure: never were cinderblock bookcases more called for.
But it's the riveting cast that makes this a theatrical experience not to be missed. It takes awhile for Cole Wimpee's percolating zombie to grow on you, but then Woody is a difficult character to fathom. However, as his realities become unvarnished, Wimpee's choices completely make sense as they lead to a violent discharge of emotion.
Jared Culverhouse is exemplary as the milquetoast nebbish who might be more stalwart than expected. As for Michael Mason, he just has solid leading man written all over him. His tantalizing lean, muscular frame, his lazed back sexuality, and his inviting good looks plus his gift for conveying the inner spirit of a battered man who doesn't want to grow up if can be stoned all the time should have agents lining up.
In the end, all one can say is that to be pricked by the "Penetrator" is an engulfing, discomforting, delicious encounter.
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