Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Big Slam"

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"The Big Slam"

by Bill Corbett
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Set Design by Eric Levenson
Lighting Design by Frank Meissner, Jr.
Costume Design by Frances Nelson McSherry
Sound Design by Rick Lombardo
Production Stage Manager Johnie Steele

Russell Boam...............Robert Pemberton
Stephanie Rommel..............Cyndi Freeman
Orrin Hoover...................Eric Roemele
Gail Myszlweski......Charissa Cree Chamorro

Bill Corbett who wrote "The Big Slam" provides, instead of characters, four paper-thin satyrical stereotypes, and in the New Repertory Theatre's final production this season Director Rick Lombardo has decided to thin and flatten them still further.The result is a situation-comedy emphasis on style in which surface is everything, and so there's hardly ever a moment when anyone onstage drops all pretense and says or does something movingly human. Their foibles are there to be laughed at, but there's never anyone there to laugh with.

Eric Roemele is the narrator, Orrin Hoover, who admits to being shy, socially incompetent, envious of go-getter types, and an as yet unemployed history teacher. Whatever he says about his friends and their world is demonstrated to be unambiguously true, though he's gullible and unimaginative enough to fall in with their peculiar schemes.

Robert Pemberton as Russel and Cyndi Freeman as Stephanie try to live their power- and money-hungry lives according to a lot of platitudinous buzz-words from a self-help book-and-tape scam called "Strategies for Power", and so the play may have something to do with the de-humanizing lockstep which devotees of new-age self-awareness schemes often think is thinking. The real truth, however, is that this pair only want to hit upon a moneymaking gimmick, and once they've found it --- a cuddly cartoon crittur the mere sight of which makes people feel "nice" --- the play becomes a deadly satire of the business mentality, with the new buzz-words talking about old, familiar office politics and sexual betrayals.

Each of these three characters gets played in a shallow, one-speed-forward style. Stephanie is a supercillious tank dominating everyone with lofty delivery of blunt put-downs. Russell is an eel-y confidence-man with a glib rationalization for everything, while Orrin is "the hero's friend" continually ignoring his instincts for honest reality in the hopes that his louder friends will let him join in their games.

The only character with any ambiguity is Gail (Charissa Cree Chamorro), the UPS delivery-girl who actually draws the crittur they try to market --- though of course Russel pretends it was his sketch, and then hires her "to flesh out my ideas" when Hollywood seems interested. It's this seemingly honest, sincere, real person who gives the second half of this play some bite, since she gives the schemers something to exploit, and gives Orrin an alternative to their contemptuous use of him. When Gail turns out as shallow and unfeeling as the rest, Orrin finds his one moment of power in the entire play, yet by then it is the hollow victory of a hollow hero over hollow adversaries.

The show is played on a beautiful set by Eric Levenson using bright primary colors and decorative latticed boxes made of gleaming white styrofoam, with simple modern furniture scattered across a multicolored checkgerboard floor --- a set with its angularities and rigid squares that seems a better embodiment of the theme than the flat performances of the shallow play itself.

Flashes of physical gesture or inspired comic timing in this fast-pace two acts enliven it from time to time, but this is a rare occasion when neither playwright Bill Corbett nor director Rick Lombardo nor the quartet of actors on the New Rep stage have found a way to make these character movingly human people, instead of stereotypes pompously mouthing cliches.


54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS
till 8 June

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide