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Sorrows or Stephen

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Nice guys aren't supposed to finish last, and Stephen (Tohoru Masamune) is a nice guy--a bit too nice for his current girlfriend, who's about to move out because Stephen brings too many flowers and too much candy too often. Stephen is so desolated that he goes to the opera with good friend William (Patrick Faucette) and immediately falls for Opera Woman (Blythe Matsui), who's sitting in front of him with her synthetic operaphile boyfriend (Dean Simone). Then Stephen makes a successful play for his best friend's girl, Christine (Audrey Sarn). He's obviously an all-around nice guy who believes his own notices, because as a character and unfortunately as an actor, Stephen and Masamune combine to create one of the least attractive stage heroes of the current season--or maybe any other season. The actor improvises his way through his allegedly emotional scenes as if he were starring in "The Actor's Nightmare."

That this actor has the voice and the ability shows when he quotes from Goethe's "The Sorrows of Werther"--the inspiration for this Peter Parnell play, a young man's passionate obsession with love--quotations from which become the leitmotif of the play; maybe it's Parnell's (Q.E.D., stage adaptation of Cider House Rules, West Wing) script, which is pretty sappy as presented here, though it has previous credibility and is published by Samuel French.

Scenes are brief, often irrelevant, and take place in so many diverse locations that it would give a three-camera TV show pause. The problem could also be the direction, which seems to have lost its way in the hands of Carey Rothman, whose attachment to stage directions is so literal that we find ourselves waiting with bated breath for the destination of the three black boxes that stand in as scenery. Will the box represent a bed? Or a table? Or a taxicab? Do the artless stagehands know? Will they realize the box is turned so that the audience gets an intimate view of its innards instead of its bland black face? One senses the director threw his hands up in despair at some point and went out for coffee, allowing multiple infractions, including the unprofessional behavior of one actor, doubling as a stagehand, who changed scenes with attitude, desperately reaching for and getting laughs from an emotionally deprived audience. The play's promise might have played out better if the actors had played their roles with anything approaching conviction, or if they had been audible. Too much exposure to contemporary reality entertainment may be at the root of the lack of discipline in the performances of this young group. Fifteen pre-curtain minutes of honky-tonk geetar-picking by Joseph Buttler, who later plays an egregiously effete desk clerk, adds nothing of value to this uninspired production.

It's a disappointing outing from a new group that needs to polish its professional standards beyond junior high level before it's ready to sell tickets.

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