Director Jay O’Berski’s production design for Manbites Dog Theater’s regional premiere of Cape Disappointment is ingenious, and his staging is imaginative; but they cannot compensate for the fact that the episodic script, penned by the Buddy Cop 2 tandem of Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and developed and originally directed for The Debate Society of Brooklyn, NY by Oliver Butler, is a shaggy-dog story, with vivid vignettes chock-full of colorful characters embarked on an journey to … nowhere — or should that be Nowheresville, USA, circa the 1950s or 1960s, during the heyday of drive-in movie theaters.
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern artistic director and Manbites Dog associate artistic director Jay O’Berski enhances the viewing experience by seating much of the audience in office chairs on wheels, smack dab in the middle of the action. So, a tide of onlookers ebbs and flows as the four-member cast scoots around the stage in several boxy ersatz automobiles, propelled Fred Flintstone style.
The play begins with a couple of cringe-worthy civic boosters, played with élan by Jeffrey Moore and Dana Marks, unctuously extolling the virtues of the City of Detroit as a vacation destination and as a primo location to live and work. There follows a series of short glimpses of the dark side of the American Dream that could be set anywhere during the last half of the last century.
Ishai Buchbinder and Dana Marks exude teenaged angst as Jack and Mary, who at first seem to be a pair of lovebirds looking to nest on Lover’s Lane, but turn out to be a brother and sister embarked upon a nighttime drive that is interrupted when their car runs out of gas. Also on the move are Jeffrey Moore and Ishai Buchbinder as a slick pair of linoleum salesmen looking for customers and Moore and Marks as a Peeping Tom/Pedophile and the Little Girl who rides shotgun on his cross-country jaunt from the Midwest to see the ocean at the titular cape.
Annie Zipper plays a crusty Apple Annie type — a one-armed old woman warming herself over a barrel fire — and later she switches gears to play a twenty-something beauty-pageant contestant sprouting the predictable platitudes of a more innocent era than our own.
The paths of the above characters converge and diverge, without any apparent unifying purpose; and other characters appear and disappear without making much of a ripple in the dramatic pond.
Cape Disappointment, which is performed in 75 minutes, without intermission, ends with a whimper, not a bang; and last Saturday night it took a furious burst of applause, which from where I sat sounded like it started backstage to signal the audience that this meandering melodrama was at an end.
It is too simple to say that Cape Disappointment is disappointing, because this Manbites Dog Theater presentation has several praiseworthy parts, topped by director Jay O’Berski’s provocative staging and clever production design and including a series of crisp cameos by all four cast members. It is just too bad that the Cape Disappointment dramatists do not give Ishai Buchbinder, Dana Marks, Jeffrey Moore, and Annie Zipper more interesting characters to inhabit and more compelling plotlines to play out.
SECOND OPINION: April 4th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/cape-disappointment-moves-audiencesliterally-if-not-emotionally/Content?oid=2970296; and March 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/03/25/1953660/durhams-manbites-dog-presents.html. Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the March 29th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, see Part 1B above or click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/03/cape-disappointment-is-a-bizarre-comic-homage-to-drive-in-movies-by-the-authors-of-buddy-cop-2/.)
Manbites Dog Theater presents CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT at 8:15 p.m. April 5-7, 3:15 p.m. April 8, and 8:15 p.m. April 11-14 at 712 Foster St., Durham North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights ($10 seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel) and $17 Friday-Sunday ($15 seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel), except $5 Student Rush Tickets with ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150.
Cape Disappointment: http://thedebatesociety.org/cape-disappointment/ (official web page) and http://www.samuelfrench.com/store/product_info.php/products_id/9474 (Samuel French, Inc.).
The Debate Society: http://thedebatesociety.org/ (official website).
Jay O’Berski: http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people?Gurl=/aas/TheaterStudies&Uil=jayoberski&subpage=profile (Duke University Department of Theater Studies).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.