Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cherry Smoke (The Side Project GUEST REVIEWER JOE TANSINO)

One of the actors in this play tried to start a fight with me. He got all up in my face. He might have threatened to tear my throat out. I wasn’t scared, though. I got in my fair share of brawls growing up on the mean streets of suburban Connecticut, and I was 99% I could take him, even though he was bigger than me. I gave him the dead stare, and he backed off. Then he started threatening some other, meeker-looking audience member sitting next to me.

Fish is an animal. I don’t mean that in the obvious sense. No. Fish is the name of the character who threatens me and everyone else in the audience in the first scene of side project’s new production of Cherry Smoke. And I take back what I said. I was scared of Fish. My nerves were already on edge from passing by a tough-looking transvestite on my way from Luzzat’s restaurant to the storefront housing the side project theatre company. Maybe the chicken masala I’d ordered for dinner had stirred my insides and left me feeling a little anxious. Maybe I’m just a wimp. Fish scared the crap out of me, barging into the opening scene like a revved-up cross between Jake LaMotta and Stanley Kowalski on crystal meth. By contrast, the first character we encounter, Emily Shain’s Cherry, is sweet and starry-eyed, with an accent that’s either adorable or annoying, I’m still not sure. Cherry makes obvious her feelings for Fish, but it’s less clear whether Fish reciprocates. Cherry dotes endlessly on Fish, and Fish does tend to be less of a psycho when he’s in Cherry’s embrace.

So there’s Fish and Cherry, and then there’s Fish’s younger brother, Duffy (Peter Oyloe), and his girlfriend, Bug (Jessica London-Shields). And you’re probably thinking, who the hell came up with these names? Well the playwright’s name is James McManus, and he won a Princess Grace Award for this play, so he sure as hell doesn’t need your stamp of approval, least of all mine. Nonetheless, I’m happy to report that Mr. McManus explains in fine form why Fish, Cherry and Bug are all named after foods. He doesn’t bother to explain Duffy, although you get the sense that his dad was kind of a dick and that might have had something to do with it.

Is this Billy Elliott without the ballet? No.

Is it Wild At Heart without the Wizard of Oz? No, not at all. That doesn’t even make sense, really.

Cherry Smoke is an honest work that some people will like. Some people will call it raw and emotional. Some people’s butts might fall asleep.


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