Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Presented by and at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52 St., NYC, Nov. 14-Dec. 19.
Subtitled "Strange Tales from a Strange Town," Sean Sutherland's "Armonk" is, in fact, pretty strange, and deliriously quirky, too. In 13 short, comedic scenes, Sutherland establishes himself as an absurdist in the David Ives mold, with characters suffering from unexplainable pelvic twists, terrifically bad British teeth, and other goofy maladies. The evening is an explosion of ideas, one-liners, and pratfalls melding low and high comedy as performed by a crackerjack crew.
And yet, with 13 scenes, everything invariably does not stack up neatly, so the evening at times feels like a scoreboard game—this piece good, bad, brilliant, or otherwise.
To make the whole stronger, Sutherland and director Eileen Myers would be well-advised to start making some choices about which pieces to eliminate. An opening monologue parodying Christopher Walken falls flat, and the closing piece, called "Wanna Eat This?" (set in a disgusting restaurant), falls flat too. What's in between—such as "Nice Place for a Bird's Nest," a brilliant parody of '40s noir, or "Tuesday at Eight," a parody of the nuclear family—are frequently gems.
The cast, including Paul Bartholomew, Derrick McGinty, Eileen Myers, Heather Robinson, Sonya Rokes, Sarah Rose, Eric Scott, Kevin Shinick, and the playwright, never rest. If they're not needed for one of Sutherland's kooky conceits, they're getting changed into a weird costume or readying a set piece to move.
Fortunately, little physical production is needed for most scenes to work. "Four Temps" is funny because of how sluggish the temps are at stuffing envelopes. "Guessing Game," set in a restaurant, is funny because of how dishy the three gay boys at the table are. Never mind the rather disconcerting notion that they're assassinated by the CIA.
Sutherland's fondness for asides is brought into focus by Doug Filomena's expert lighting, Amela Baksic's witty costumes, and Carlo Adinolfi's versatile setting.