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Larry Littany Litt
Alexandra Bonesho as Denise, Brad Fryman as Bruno.
"Zen A.M." by Natalie Menna
Directed by Andrew Block
May 31 to June 16, 2019
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue, NYC
Reviewed by Larry Littany Litt on June 1, 2019
Untidy, inconsistent artist Bruno (Brad Fryman) is distracted from his meditation in his chaotic painter’s studio by aggressively determined Kim (Dai Ishiguro), the Chinese food delivery ‘boy.’ “$11.55,” says Kim to Bruno, “now please. I have to go.” Dramatic conflict in the making because we know Bruno doesn’t have the money. Or any money, at least not yet. There’s an unexpected phone call from Denise (Alexandra Bonesho), Bruno’s girlfriend. By the power of farcical confusion she’s urged to rush to Bruno’s rescue with money for his chicken with stir-fried vegetables. And of course to make sure Kim isn’t a woman after her man.
Brad Fryman as Bruno, John Gazzale as Chang.
Rachel walks through the door in a distressed mood. She too screams, “Finish the fucking painting already,” in her Jersey girl accent. Kim just wants to be paid. Rachel leaves in a huff. Bruno makes Kim a once in a lifetime deal. Chinese delivery paid for.
So begins an expose of the contemporary art and high society world that calls itself high culture. In this play high means high priced. For instance every top artist needs an insanely frenetic shaman guru to cast spells and donate money to “The Project.” In this case it’s Chang (John Gazzale) who will do anything to urge Bruno to finish a painting that’s promised to the new International Freedom Center going up on the sight of the bombed out World Trade center. Chang screams his way into Bruno’s studio, accusing this poor confused artist of sabotage. “I’m responsible to Rachel, She’s the goddess of the Project. Her will must be done. You must finish. Go to work now! Or else!”
Sean Phillips as Hal, Elizabeth Inghram as Rachel.
In the midst of all the shouting there’s an unexpected knock on the door. It’s Rachel (Elizabeth Ingraham) who wants to show Bruno’s painting ‘The Project’ to The Art Committee for the IFC. Her physical elegance combined with her monied upper class demeanor and condescending facial expressions ring true and are the most delightful comic acting in Zen A.M.
When her young doctor husband Hal (Sean Phillips) shows up we learn the secrets of a high society dominatrix run marriage. Hal tries to please but nothing he can do is good enough. Their interplay strikes a romantic comedy note that shifts the action from Bruno and Denise whose romance seems always to be ready to fall off the edge of a cliff.
Will Kim ever get paid for his delivery? Maybe this painting will suffice. Dai Ishiguro as Kim.
Director Andrew Block pits these forces of generally good humor and bad behavior against the truth of the value of art in public places. Will Chang and Rachel lose their investment in Bruno? Can Denise coax Bruno into a painting spurt with love or worse? Will Chang’s metaphysics raise Bruno’s energy level into art? Will Kim ever get properly paid for his delivery?
If you have any interest in art and society this comedic farce is well worth taking in. I will tell you this: the art is in the making.
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