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Off-Off-Broadway Review

Mangella

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Mangella
Photo Source: Lee Wexler Images for Innovation
As we saw by the startlingly personal reactions to the death of Apple co-founder and chairman Steve Jobs, many people feel a connection with their digital appliances that borders on the erotic. Ken Ferrigni's "Mangella" starts out as a twisted romantic comedy between a man and his computer, and gradually becomes a twisted philosophical comedy about the ambiguity of notions like "privacy" and "identity" in the technological age. It's clever, compelling stuff, if a bit muddled in its later scenes.

Our non-hero is Ned (Anthony Manna), a pudgy, asocial computer hacker whose spends most of his time fantasizing and plotting cyber-mischief while perched on the ultimate fanboy accessory: an exact replica of Captain Kirk's deck chair from the original "Star Trek." His most vital relationship is with his high-strung but alluring computer, Gabriella (Ali Perlwitz), though he also keeps his dementia-addled father (Bob Austin McDonald), who believes he's an old blues singer named Mangella St. James, tied up in the next room. Failing in his attempts to re-program dear old Dad, he enlists the help of a slinky call girl named Lilly (Hannah Wilson). From then on, things get a little weird.

Ferrigni's script grows conceptually cluttered toward the end, with Vietnamese gangsters and some kind of theory of reincarnation or eternal recurrence thrown into the mix. Still, I'd rather see a play firing on too many cylinders than too few, and director Joe Jung keeps the energy high without losing control of the material. Manna gives an able, low-key performance in what is essentially the straight man role; the rest of the cast have showier and more eccentric parts, but imbue them with just enough realism to be unsettling.

Presented by Project: Theater  at The Drilling Company, 236 W. 78th St., NYC. Oct. 12-29.  Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.

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