Jerry Richardson, Lisa Velten Smith, Stephanie Szostak in FUBAR. Photo by Felix Photography
BOTTOM LINE: Has a sort of TV feel, especially in the sense that I didn’t care as much about the story as I did about the characters’ stories.
It’s the turn of the new century and the question remains: Is it the same as it ever was? Or are we, as a society, totally FUBAR (F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition)? Themes galore surface in Karl Gajdusek’s FUBAR or Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantastic, presented by Project Y Theatre Company as part of the Americas Off-Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Addiction, self-doubt, self-recognition, suicide, money, technology, fear, random acts of violence, infidelity, sex, cyberspace, drugs, and love are all explored in this at times confusing, somewhat disjointed, character driven story.
It’s the late '90s. The internet is still relatively foreign, alternative is the new mainstream, and ecstasy was the “it” drug of choice among ravers, college freshman and middle-aged PhD's alike. David (Jerry Richardson) is a six-figure-internet-guru-turned-amateur-photographer, while his wife, Mary (Lisa Velten Smith) is a physician who is apparently spiraling through depression. Their rocky marriage is tested when they move to San Francisco after Mary’s mother, an original flower child, commits suicide. We don’t know why Mary’s mother killed herself but we do know that she was a victim of domestic violence. We also know that she shot herself but not before packing up all of her belongings and labeling the boxes with things like “Virginity,” “For Mary,” “For David” and “Unforgivable Tchotchkes.”
In their new home of San Francisco, David reconnects with his high school buddy Richard (Ryan McCarthy) over some ecstasy at a rave. The two bond over drugs, old times, and their mutual adoration for Sylvia (Stephanie Szostak), the newest type of bohemian, who engages in cyber sex, lots of drugs, and is a muse for David’s new-found passion. Richard shares with David the thought that you go to bed thinking you are beautiful then you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see what you really look like. He asks David, “Where is the mirror that shows who you really are?” Richard, we find out, is an author (the book he is currently writing is about self-recognition), but really, he’s an upper class drug-dealer.
While all this is going on, Mary is a victim of a random act of violence. She gets pummeled while taking a walk, just after laughing at the site of a big, beautiful, house burnt to the ground and thinking to herself “maybe I’ll get one of those delicious wraps.” After that, she takes boxing lessons from DC (Dan Patrick Brady) so she can learn how to hit something.
After leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help but feel like I had just Netflixed the first season of a new cable series called “FUBAR,” sat down, and watched the entire box set from beginning to end. Even though Gajdusek touches on some topical themes, the story itself is lackluster. It is a bit convoluted and even teeters on trite towards the end. His characters, however, are increasingly interesting. In particular, cast members Richardson and Szostak really honored Gajdusek’s characters with depth and variety. Richardson, with his quirky sense of humor, has a Ron Howard appeal that makes him ever likable while Szostak’s quintessential European cutie delivers with unabashed honestly that is both funny and discerning.
The characters in FUBAR, along with some stunning visual imagery (especially the stirring photographs taken by Eduardo Felix Placer that are intermittently projected on the walls), are what make this play interesting. The characters ask themselves, each other, and ultimately the audience many questions. In the end they prove that we as a people - despite a changing world filled with technology, violence, fear, and an ever present disapproval of what we, the people of the new millennia, have become - are the same as we ever were.
(FUBAR or Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantasic plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., through June 28th. Performance times are Tuesday at 7:15pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:15pm and Sunday at 3:15pm. The show is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members) and can be purchased online at www.ticketcentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200. For more info visit www.59E59.org.)