Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pizza Man

Pamela Arndt, Zoe Shields and Tim Samland

I enjoyed most of the first act and parts of the second act, but there was something disturbing about Darlene Craviotto’s feminist screed (if you can call it that) that I can’t quite sink my teeth into. Yes, that statement was a play on a line from the play: "Teeth are important for pizza, among other things."
What’s disturbing about it is not just that there are hints of violence or that we’re given a look into the darkest parts of the dark sides of two otherwise comical women Julie Rodgers (Pamela Arndt, who also directed) and Alice Meyerlink (Zoe Shields). It’s that Craviotto’s play can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a tragedy. Granted, the best dramas nearly always have huge helpings of humor in them and contemporary life is rife with a heady mixture of melodrama and farce — as is this play. In Pizza Man there are no valid reasons, logically or psychologically, for the things Julie and Alice do. As a result, moments of insight are lost and many of the bits that should be hilarious fall flat.
Julie and Alice are failures in love and in their pathetic little jobs. Julie is at a point in her life where she is ready to explode. You wouldn’t be surprised if she decided to rob a bank or blow something up or become a stripper or run for Congress. Alice, on the other hand, is too much of a bubblehead to think of or do anything drastic. All she wants to do is eat and pine over the worthless boyfriend who dumped her and eat some more.
What Julie finally decides to do in order to vent, and what she coerces Alice into going along with, is to take their frustrations out on a hapless pizza deliveryman, Eddie (Tim Samland).
To say anything more about the plot line would be a spoiler.  Suffice it to say things start getting weird, and I for one found myself balanced on a precipice between loving it and hating it. Ultimately I decided that the script was on the verge of being well written but went off track. It could have used as least one more re-write.
Pizza Man appears to be set in the early ’90s, although if the time frame is explicit I missed it. Everything happens in Julie and Alice’s tawdry apartment — set designed and constructed by Arndt and Samland. There’s an uncomfortable looking couch with a pea green cover thrown over, piles of empty beer bottles, cheap wall paneling and cheap laminate flooring, and amateurish looking modern art on the walls painted by local artist and actor Brian Jansen, who is actually an excellent artist whose paintings have an intentionally clumsy look to them, making them ideal for this set.
It must be hard for an actor to walk onto stage and establish a convincingly unique character from the get-go without benefit of dialogue or interaction with other actors, but with nothing more than gestures, posture and by mumbling thoughts out loud, and to do it without it seeming staged. Arndt does this nicely as she wanders from kitchen or bedroom into the front room of her cheap apartment wearing a ratty old shirt with apparently nothing underneath. She paces the floor, swigs beer, answers a phone call from an irritating neighbor, shouts at him and then with her back to the audience she flings open her shirt and flashes him (he’s looking through her window from his adjacent apartment). In doing all this she is utterly believable and hysterically funny. She makes the audience love her.
Shield’s first appearance is not as well done. She’s on edge and hyperactive — too much so, but only in the first few minutes. Then she quickly settles into the role of an airhead who is undone because her no-good boyfriend has gone back to his wife. After her momentarily jittery entrance, Shields gets better and better until an unfortunately ridiculous scene well into the second act.
Samland’s character, the pizza man, is a little more believable than the two women — not exactly likeable, but a stereotype we can believe in, and Samland pulls it off well. He’s a good actor and he finds a good balance between reality and farce.
Craviotto’s script starts out smart and humorous, but it falls apart in the second act. Many of the jokes fall flat and motivations are muddied at best. The cast and crew did a great job, but it’s not possible to make a good play out of a bad script.
Promotions for Pizza Man warned that there was nudity. Maybe Julie really didn’t have anything on under that shirt, but if so I don’t think anyone in the audience could tell.
The show starts at 8 p.m. but I recommend getting there by 7:30 so you won’t miss  singer/songwriter Amanda Navarez performing songs she composed for this show.
Final weekend Feb. 21, 22, 23 at 8 p.m.
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 N. Columbia Street in downtown Olympia.
Tickets: $12.00 available at the door night of show or online at

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