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Snakebit

Reviewed by David Sheward

Presented by Naked Angels at the Grove Street Playhouse, 39 Grove St., NYC, Nov.21-Dec. 20.

David Marshall Grant's "Snakebit" is an unexpectedly fresh variation on the familiar gay man-straight couple dynamic. It's similar to Craig Lucas' "The Dying Gaul," in that it involves a bisexual triangle and some harsh satire on Hollywood, but it's warmer and more real. Michael (Geoffrey Nauffts), a gay ballet-dancer-turned-social-worker, is having a terrible week. His closeted lover has left him. He's about to lose his position because he cares too much about one child client. He has to move because he can't afford his rented Los Angeles house anymore. On top of all this, his best friends, Jonathan (David Alan Basche) and Jenifer (Jodie Markell), are visiting from New York. Jonathan is a self-absorbed actor visiting L.A. to scout movie work, while Jenifer is contemplating ending their marriage. A secret in their shared past causes the three to re-evaluate their relationships and values.

I know that last sentence makes the play sound like a terrible clich , but Grant, an actor himself, has written a beautifully modulated piece about the fragile nature of friendship and the ties that bind us to our work and our world. Jace Alexander gives the play the staging its deserves. There are no pushed laughs or tricked-up melodrama. Each humorous or confrontational situation is built up to gradually and honestly.

Likewise, the acting is so seamless and unforced, it's invisible. That's the best kind. None of the four-member cast seems to be playing "scenes"; they're reacting to each other. Nauffts, Basche, Markell, and Michael Weston in a small, but pivotal, role are all living the play moment by moment. Basche is particularly adept at playing a narcissistic bastard and making us care about him.

Dean Taucher has provided the detailed setting, which makes use of every inch of the limited Grove Street Playhouse stage. Ren e Molina's lighting is simple, but to the purpose, as are Elizabeth Roles' well-chosen costumes. Despite its modest surroundings, this "Snakebit" leaves deep marks.

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Waiting for Godot

Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Presented by and at the Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., NYC, Nov. 18-Dec. 21.

Andrei Belgrader's production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" is solid, not inspired; vigorous, not trenchant. Comparing this production (supervised by David Esbjornson) to Alan Schneider's seminal one with Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith is unfair, as Schneider was the definitive Beckett director in America and the actors were older, with more stage experience. However, Belgrader has not added any memorable touches of his own.

Mitigating against invention is the Beckett estate, which does not allow any deviation from the script. Andrei Both's set is the classic one of an empty space with a bare tree and a rock, although there is no hint of a road here. Elizabeth Hope Clancy's costumes for two tramps are almost exactly the same, although Estragon's jacket seems too small while Vladimir's jacket seems too big.

Part of the problem with this revival is that, although John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub are fine actors, they are really too young for the roles of Estragon and Vladimir, respectively. At one point, Estragon says that they have known each other 50 years, which is meaningless if both men are in their 30s. In addition, Vladimir's bladder problem is more believable in a man of advanced years. Both actors ought to mature into these roles as time goes by.

The Pozzo of Christopher Lloyd is much more impressive. Loyd's zany personality and the wild expression well known from his films are perfectly at home here. Richard Spore as the white-haired Lucky is given the least to do as the automaton-like servant, but he is very believable.

Alternating as the Boy who delivers the message from Godot are Sean Fredricks and Amedeo Turturro, directed to be extremely unresponsive to the men's questioning. This "Waiting for Godot" is unfussy and conventional, which is fine for those being introduced to the play.

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Killer Joe

Reviewed by Jane Hogan

Presented by Darren Lee Cole and Scott Morfee, in association with 29th Street Rep at SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., NYC. Opened October 18 for an open run.

What to say about "Killer Joe," the Tracy Letts play currently running at SoHo Playhouse? It has a talented and polished cast (Scott Glenn as Killer Joe Cooper, Marc A. Nelson as Ansel Smith, Sarah Paulson as Dottie Smith, Amanda Plummer as Sharla Smith, and Mike Shannon as Chris Smith)‹one that cannot be faulted. Glenn plays it just right. He's quiet, seemingly kinda polite, but the second he's challenged, he shows his threatening side. And the direction by Wilson Milam is clear, strong, and decisive.

The play is awfully well done‹I wasn't bored for a second. The first act is the stronger of the two‹the set-up is far more intriguing than the payoff. The play deals with a plot by Chris and Ansel to kill Chris and Dottie's mother and Ansel's ex-wife. Killer Joe is the man hired to do the deal. But they don't have money for a down payment so Glenn asks for a retainer‹he takes possession of Dottie, who's prone to sleepwalking around the trailer-park home. Along the way we see lots of beer drinking, walking around in underwear, an unusually close brother and sister relationship‹the typical picture of lower-class American life as seen at least through the screen of the TV set.

But I didn't find it especially funny (which it is intended to be). The play benefits from the committed cast, the dead-on direction, and the extremeness of the situations, but the unmemorable dialogue fails to make "Killer Joe" anything beyond a strangely enjoyable experience. To pull off something more, you'd better have the exact and devastating language of a real black comedy. "Killer Joe" does not.

And it is certainly a send-up of American culture‹violence, incest, senseless TV, and, of course, bad taste. Maybe I've grown up watching too many violent movies and TV shows, but there's something decidedly ho-hum about the situations and violence of this decidedly cinematic play. Again, it is the sheer energy of this production that keeps you absorbed in the onstage action.

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