A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
Graham’s ‘Any Given Monday’ by Theatre Exile (1st review)BY: Dan Rottenberg 02.12.2010
Bruce Graham purports to create an edgy satire of modern mores, in which an idealistic teacher benefits from the murder of his romantic rival. But Graham is just too soft around the edges. Instead of pushing the envelope of comedy, he stays carefully within its existing borders.
Any Given Monday. By Bruce Graham; directed by Harriet Power (world premiere). Co-production of Theater Exile and Act II Playhouse through February 28, 2010 at Plays and Players, 1726 Delancey Pl. (215) 218-4022 or www.theatreexile.org.
The way of the wimpDAN ROTTENBERG
Suppose you’re a mild-mannered but steadfastly decent suburban schoolteacher named Lenny who chokes up every time you watch To Kill a Mockingbird. And suppose your wife has just left you for a more exciting if less principled real estate developer. And suppose your more assertive best buddy Mickey— a cynical, street smart urban wiseguy who works downtown in the subway— shoots and kills the developer as a personal favor to you. And suppose your daughter is a college philosophy major in search of a suitable project for her term paper.
Oh, and I did I mention that you’re Jewish, and Mickey is Catholic?
Maybe Larry David, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” could construct an edgy contemporary satire from this material. But Bruce Graham, the author of Any Given Monday, is just too soft around the edges. If Graham ever shot anyone, he’d do it with a cap pistol. A playwright like Gina Gionfriddo, who wrote the Wilma’s recent Becky Shaw, constantly pushes the audience’s envelope so as to stay a step ahead of them; Graham, by contrast, harvests comic ideas that have already been safely tested elsewhere and are unlikely to offend anyone, no matter how outraged his characters profess themselves.
In lieu of character development, Graham gives us narrators— Lenny’s wife and daughter— who address the audience directly. In lieu of human comedy or drama, he gives us one-line wisecracks, mostly from the perpetually excitable Mickey: “We’re the only country in the world with fat homeless people!” “You’re the only guy I know who steps out of the shower to take a leak!” “You’re the only Jew I know who doesn’t have a lawyer!” To Graham, I suspect, Mickey would say, “You’re the only playwright I know who finds these lines engaging!”
What’s lacking here is the ring of authenticity. If Graham has spent any time hanging out with Jews, or Catholics, or subway workers, or killers, or lifelong buddies, Any Given Monday provides no evidence that he has done so. How two such temperamentally opposite men as Lenny and Mickey became such close companions is never credibly explained. (For that matter, there’s no particular reason for them to be Jewish or Catholic, other than authorial faith-dropping.) As was the case in Woody Allen’s Match Point, in Any Given Monday a character gets away with murder not because the world’s a rotten place but because the author knows little about police work.
As the explosive Mickey and the reticent Len, Pete Pryor and Joe Canuso essentially reprise their roles as Teach and Don in David Mamet’s American Buffalo for Theatre Exile last year. The intimidating Pryor is without peer when it comes to rants, but it would be nice to see him expand his repertoire. Canuso as Len is such a wimp that he almost fades into the scenery, rendering it difficult to sympathize with his marital and parental plights. That’s not really his fault as much as Graham’s, whose Lenny comes across like Mr. Cellophane rather than Everyman.
Perhaps this world premiere can be salvaged with wholesale pruning and polishing. But then, this whole enterprise has a derivative feel. Any Given Monday struck me as a throwback to James Yaffe’s Cliffhanger, a 1980s comedy about campus politics in which a gentle old philosophy professor finds his hopes for an endowed chair blocked by his ruthlessly ambitious department head, a much younger woman. Momentarily unhinged by her calculated cruelty, the old prof bashes her head in (with a bust of Socrates), and he and his wife spend the rest of the play disposing of the body, blackmailing witnesses and misleading the police so the professor can resume his role as a benevolent defender of honest Socratic values.
Now, there was a satire with bite— and it was written a quarter-century before Any Given Monday. In Graham’s hands, we’d never meet the victim, the killing would take place offstage, and the murder would be committed with a rubber knife.♦
Respond to this Article