Friday, November 06, 2009

A Yankee Theatre Review

Theater Review

“Like You’ve Been There Before”

by D.L. Pedroia

In the opening scene of “Like You’ve Been There Before” we are struck in the face by its audacity like a whipped-cream pie thrown from the ghostly hand of Soupy Sales. (Correction: whipped-cream has more substance. This pie is a money-shot and borne therefrom. Without treacle, spice, or nuance it sticks, runs, and then lingers for all too long leaving your face to beg “clean me”. )

Yes, in a thus far uninspiring theater season add one more play to the list of disappointments. The long and begrudgingly anticipated premier of the George Steinbrenner Production “Like You’ve Been There Before” opened off-off-Broadway last night to a packed house.

The play starts smack dab in the midst of a bacchanalian where all of the players known collectively as the Emmephwhy are introduced en masse dousing each other with celebratory libations. The cause of their celebration is insignificant as it appears to be long presumed by all partakers. Mutual, manly affection takes the place of the first lines spoken and then there they are: a clotted jumble of self-satisfied “I’s” and “Me’s” bellows with migrainic pulses reminiscent of the chorus of last year’s surprising hit musical “Robber Barons”. Before breaking off individually the players repeat insincere mantras setting the tone for a religiously decadent evening, of sorts.

For those familiar with the author Brian Cashman’s previous work, this should be no surprise. His style hearkens back to a simpler time in theater when a producer was all-powerful and his play was a projection of his wealth and insecurities. The writer was then his salaried medium whose job it was to transcribe the ramblings of a rich man drunk on his own affection. The aptronymic Cashman said in an interview three years ago, “Either you love my work blindly or you want to punch me in the face.”

Like a poorly planned film about the ascent of Everest this play starts at the top and goes downhill quickly. Sub-par acting and acrid metaphor is its Sherpa.

The performances in general have the feeling of being long over-prepared. Alex Rodriguez who plays the lead is again unconvincing as an everyman (Jack Ashe) whose every noble effort is done in anonymity for the greater good. Instead, he cyanoticaly mouths his lines as many of our players do. Derek Jeter plays lead number two (Cap'n Fispump) consistently, and entirely deserving of the Tony and Oscar he was awarded before the show opened. He touches on every intangible trait you would expect from a great thespian. Hideki Matsui soars in a supporting role performing the entirety of the play in a horrific kabuki mask. But his abilities seem somehow misplaced. His cadence and maturity feel more fitting for the work of niche director Jack Horner then this maudlin stage.

A surprising bright spot was the young actor Mark Teixera fresh off his off his triumphant portrayal in “Equus" at the Mercenary Lane Theatre. His performance as Johnny Statuary is understated and especially appreciated by out-of-towners. Joe Girardi in the role of Chief of the Emmephwhy is brash and plodding, and, in my opinion, too over-written to be believable. The idea that such a clumsy man could lead the Emmephwhy anywhere but to oblivion is laughably preposterous.

The veteran histrion Andy Pettitte is not unimpressive as much as he is perplexing. At times he seems to be repeating lines and stage direction to himself then looking to the rafters for guidance.

In a strange fit of whimsy Cashman wrote in a mythical Greek figure Testosterones who is able to buttress struggling members of the Emmephwhy finding heretofore unfounded strength in the frail and aged. We meet Testosterones first through Pettitte who plays the character Irving Maxwell Redeemd. Redeemd is born anew through the soft touch of the Greek mentor whose presence is clearly meant to impress predestiny for the all too sympathetic Emmephwhy.

Despite a few bright spots “Like You’ve Been There Before” is on a whole vulgar and unnecessary in a world filled with disappointments; murder is a kinder way to spend an evening.

“Like You’ve Been There Before”

Written and directed by Brian Cashman and produced by Geo. Steinbrenner plays forever at the House that Taxpayers Built. Tickets range from $150-2500.

...If You Ain't Got That Ring.