Three-ring circus

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 29, 2009


life main

YOUNG LOVERS Couples clash in Life Science.

How does anyone survive their late teen years? Confusion about personal identity and place in the world, surging hormones that you don't know whether to flow with or stifle. It's a wonder that the four high school seniors in Anna Ziegler's entertaining Life Science don't blow up like faulty rockets terminated shortly after launch.

With the imaginative direction of Michael Perlman, things start off with high-octane music to which they bound around the stage like mosh pit flailers. Then, abruptly, Leah (Phoebe Neidhardt) is in the midst of a motormouth monologue directed at Tom (Julian Cihi). Perfect. After all, her mind hasn't stopped racing and his must feel under machine-gun assault. Leah is going on and on worrying about the state of the world, uncertain about the right side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even though she's Jewish, finding attending 15 bar mitzvahs "taxing," and wishing she were Christian after visiting Auschwitz and concerned that she could be among the next victims.

Tom puts up with this and much more because he likes her, as they say in junior high, where they all feel they are emotionally. Mike (Rich Williams) appears to be much more confident than the passive Tom. But that's not so much a mask as it is a protective veneer easily worn away by Leah, in whom he eventually gets interested, and especially by Dana (Charlotte Graham), his former girlfriend. As for Dana, she comes on strong compared to the dizzyingly wobbly Leah. But she is so unmoored that instead of applying to colleges she is going to adopt a 12-year-old Beirut boy who melted her heart on CNN after the bodies of his parents were laid on his doorstep. (Her obliging parents will sign the papers for her if that will make her happy, but otherwise they provide her no direction in life.)

Got all that?

The two couples don't know how they feel about themselves, so of course they're at a loss for how to feel about each other, at least for two consecutive days. The actors deal convincingly with the emotional tensions that threaten to pull all four apart, and the scenes in which they show their vulnerabilities are well chosen. Leah is high-strung, constantly emanating C above high C in her anxiety, so Neidhardt's job is the hardest, needing to modulate emotions within a tiny span. She does so beautifully, ably helped by the others, and the ensemble delivers a skillfully told story. It's about suffering, but we can't help but be amused because we know that they'll survive.



FAMILY FARCE The plot gets outlandish in Chicken Grease Is Nasty Business.

There is a lot of hardship referred to in the back story and beneath the surface of Michael Miller's Chicken Grease Is Nasty Business. But what shows on that surface is the entertaining chaos of family disorder, albeit an unusually disorderly family.

Matriarch Modestine Smiley (Raffini) has a dour, crunchy exterior that hides a heart as soft as a nougat center. Most recently, she has adopted a white AIDS baby, just as 28 years before she adopted a crack baby, Delmar (John Tracey). When we meet him, Delmar is displaying his frail interior state in the form of a nun costume he found in his closet. "If I'm fated to be celibate, I might as well look the part," he gripes. Being gay and approaching 30, his last chance soon appears: a gorgeous gay doctor, Richard Long (Jude Sandy), in whose presence he tends to faint dead away. (To not keep you in suspense: yes, the opportunity is not neglected to have Dr. Long go by the name Dick.)

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