This Isn’t Paradise is so much like Glengarry Glen Ross that it could have been written by David Mamet himself. That is … if David Mamet had fallen down a well and lost his memory. And his ability to write a play. And when he crawled out of the well all he found in his pocket was a wad of cocktail napkins with scribbles on them which said Follow up on that real estate story … Don’t forget all that trademark cursing … and the trademark misogyny. Then Mamet took all the cocktail napkins and gave them to the guy who wrote Gigli and said Here, finish this up for me.
This Isn’t Paradise (not written by Mamet at all, but actually by Richard Hymes-Esposito and directed by Robert Haufrecht) reminded me at times of all those bad movies made in the 80s; the kind that starred Fisher Stevens or other where-are-they-nowers and relied heavily on juvenile male bonding to drive home their flimsy plot. Similarly, This Isn’t Paradise is filled with a lot of men who act as nothing but testosterone filled idiots and have a lot of free time on their hands because they’ve chosen to work in a profession that isn’t particularly lucrative these days.
In this Manhattan real estate office you’ll find all the stereotypical cliches, none of whom rise much above a caricature: the rich kid who doesn’t need to work and would rather be an actor (Mark played by David H. Holmes); the Obama-obsessed Jamaican man who can’t let a sentence go by without mentioning his president or his carnal urges (Raul, played by Eden Marryshow); the money-obsessed, client-stealing Indian man (Kahn played by Nimesh Gandhi), the strange nerdy man with the odd accent and a weird habit of self aggrandizing (Reno, played by Jesse Wakeman), the pretty, increasingly provocative young woman who “needs this job” to support her kid (Heather played by R. Elizabeth Woodard), the benevolent father figure who watches over his squabbling children with a weary shrug (Jake played John Reoli) and the “hero” of the piece who I guess is supposed to take us through his personal journey of railing at the establishment (Bob, played by the playwright himself, Richard Hymes-Esposito).
Now that you’ve got the characters down, let’s tackle the dialogue. The play takes place exclusively in the office, so imagine that you yourself are just another coworker, forced to overhear one eye-rolling bit of idle chit chat after another, spouted by people who actually have nothing else in common except their job and their inability to keep quiet. I felt like a fly trapped under the coffee maker, begging for the swatter, watching these people not allowing one thought to be left unexpressed, no matter how banal, mundane, childish, crass, boring, silly, pointless or meandering. One minute they’re half hearted debating the use of the word ‘nigga’ (Painful sample dialogue – Robert: You guys stop using that word. Mark: What word? Robert: ‘Nigger’. Mark: It’s not ‘nigger’, it’s ‘nigga’. Robert: I know what it is. I’m not an idiot. Mark: Then what’s your problem? Robert: My problem is . . . that black people have given you the right to use that word, and you’re taking advantage. Kahn: So stop hatin’ nigga.) … the next minute Robert takes an excruciatingly long time to tell the entire plot of Slumdog Millionaire. It’s like every thought in the world has been put into a blender and is served to the audience as a Twitter Smoothie. And that’s just Day One at the office. No wonder these people hate their job.
Here’s the part where I usually give a little snippet of the plot and then a bit of a cliff hanger so as not to give the ending away for those of you who may wish to go see the show. But to be honest, aside from a Password Plus type clue of “Dog Day Afternoon“, I have very little else to say about the plot. Second verse, same as the first. If there was a point being made here, a little editing and perhaps a few more workshops might have done this play a world of good as ultimately I think the general theme was a potentially good one. From what I could gather, in between the hi-jinks, the schoolyard put downs and the discussions about sex, the play was trying to bring out how drastically the work environment can change when the added pressure of a recession is brought into the mix. Great premise. Terrible implementation.
One of the most curious things about This Isn’t Paradise (besides having a title that could serve as its own review) is that the playwright cast himself as the lead and then proceeded to stumble over a good number of his own lines. Either he was so hell bent on getting his lines out as written that he wasn’t able to ad-lib when he misspoke, or he just took on too much and the pressure got to him. Either way, he dropped words, stepped on his fellow actor’s lines and had a real problem with pacing. It was unnecessarily distracting.
The rest of the cast did a fairly decent job, though it would have been good to remind them that the performance I attended was neither 1) dress rehearsal 2) a high school play nor 3) the Carol Burnett show where laughing at each other and breaking character is considered — if not acceptable — then at least forgivable. From where I sit, it’s absolutely amateurish to be so tickled with each other’s line delivery that you can’t keep a straight face. If you guys can’t stay focused why should I bother?
High marks do go out to R. Elizabeth Woodard whose Heather comes across as natural and believable, Nimesh Gandhi as Kahn who actually made me laugh with his earnest indignation, as well as to Jesse Wakeman whose Reno has a Mr. Bean like quality which definitely steals the show. Unfortunately this is one show that can’t afford to be stolen.
THIS ISN’T PARADISE plays through Monday, June 29th:
Tickets are $18. and can be purchased online at www.ThisIsntParadise.com, or by calling 917-916-0239. For more information on available dates and show times visit www.ThisIsntParadise.com