Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Princeton Seventh (The SOB Review)

The Princeton Seventh (The SOB Review) - Partizan Theater, Minnesota Fringe Festival, U of M Thrust Stage, Minneapolis, Minnesota

***1/2 out of ****

It's one thing to write what you know. But embellishing it? Well, that just might be a whole lot more fun.

In playwright/director James Vculek's brilliantly funny, metaphysical comedy The Princeton Seventh, writers of all stripes grasp that it's never easy putting pen to paper when writing that truly novel novel. It takes inspiration. And license.

Fortunately, Vculek is inspired. And his license kills.

Intelligently and incisively crafted with witty repartee among its four principals, The Princeton Seventh centers on a nearly empty hotel bar in Toledo where one undistinguished man (Ari Hoptman, right) chats up the only other patron, famous author Jack Cutler (Alex Cole, left), who's in town to salute literary giant Max Lonoff (Richard Ooms).

Still drafting his speech over drinks, Cutler is annoyed that the other man is continually plying him with one too many questions. But after being plied with a couple cocktails, Cutler becomes intrigued when he learns that the man he dismissively referred to as a mere "shoe salesman from Cleveland" turns out to know Lonoff quite well. Turns out this mousy man was one of six -- or was it seven? -- students famously mentored by Lonoff during his only year teaching at Princeton.

The pompous, yet suave Lonoff enters the bar with his trophy wife (Alayne Hopkins) and it soon becomes apparent just who the mystery man is. Or does it?

Although it's a scant 55 minutes in duration, there are more twists and turns in The Princeton Seventh than most plays twice as long. And just when you think you have this play figured out, a new act unfolds before your eyes as if from some parallel universe. Playing like the best of Charlie Kaufman's works, Vculek's surreal play turns things inside out, making you wish you could push the replay button and watch it unfold again to catch what you may have missed.

The magnificent Hoptman shines as the chameleon who simply can't be penned down. The terrific Cole is reliably cock-sure as the jerk novelist who thinks he's seen it all. As one of Minneapolis' acting treasures, Ooms delivers a solid one-two punch with dual portrayals of the great Lonoff, and the radiant Hopkins goes the distance alongside him with a knock-out Waverly and a Mindel from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Cleverly written and directed, The Princeton Seventh may very well be the most cerebral comedy you're likely to see at the Minnesota Fringe Festival (two performances remain). Entertaining, sharp and winning, Vculek's work deserves a larger audience far beyond the fringe.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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