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Buddy Movie

Reviewed by Michael Lazan

Presented at the Settlement House Theatre, 466 Grand St., NYC, Aug. 17-27.

Unlike the mostly camp or comic offerings at the Fringe, Tony Vellela's "Buddy Movie" is a well-made play that explores the relationship between two college friends who reunite to write a "buddy" screenplay.

This doesn't sound too striking on its face, but the way Vellela presents it is rather engaging. Mitch is a hyper-bright screenwriter with a project that needs to be resolved quickly, so he invites his college friend Rusty, a journalist, to co-write. The wrinkle: Mitch is to write the first buddy movie in which one of the characters is gay. Mitch, gay himself, is at ease with the setup; Rusty, who is straight, is certainly not.

After awhile, it becomes clear that Rusty's protestations are a form of overcompensation. Gradually, the two reveal that they had crushes on each other back when they were working on the college paper together, to the point where they may have been in love. The piece evolves into a kind of memory play, as aided and abetted by amusing flashback sequences with Rusty's former girl, Lorraine, and Mitch's former guy, Dave.

The drama is crackling in the first act, when the audience is wondering about Rusty's sexual identity and Vellela gives Mitch the chance to aggressively make some sharp observations about human nature, especially regarding sexuality. In the second act, though, after the focus shifts to Mitch's own issues, the play gets analytical and lags a bit, as, ironically enough, Vellela strains to establish that Mitch is too analytical to effectively fall in love.

The play's anchor is Mark Price's very efficient Mitch, portrayed with a neurotic edge and a penetrating intelligence. The rest of the cast are also focused and effective, particularly in the flashback sequences, where director Christopher Collet handles transitions seamlessly.

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