BWW Reviews: Marriage Really Cracks Me Up
What do you get when an engaged couple on the brink of getting married runs out of money to accommodate its extravagant wedding plans, and to fix this problem decides to sell cocaine to an addict in a sleazy hotel room? Wait, that's not all. The addict then inexplicably kills himself and leaves behind a mess that has far more dire consequences than the choice to sell cocaine to fund a wedding that wouldn't be complete without the blessed ice sculptures. Obviously, this is an easy one, as not many plots are this exhilarating. You get Panic at the Riverside Motel, a comedic drama that is currently gracing the stage at the Stage IV Theatre and making audiences laugh and squirm uncomfortably at the same time.
Written by Brooklyn-born playwright John Pastore and directed by Maria Riboli, Panic is everything that a play should be: the plot is incredibly in-your-face with its witty storyline that has every chance of being a murder-mystery, yet instead becomes comedic as the truth of what happened in that dingy hotel room is twisted and distorted to the point of absurdity. Just think along the lines of Heller's Catch-22 and Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces to give you an idea of the dark humor to be found in Pastore's play. Saying this, the characters are all over the place both physically and mentally: while husband and wife are adamant in escaping the trouble they are only partially responsible for, others like Billy, the bride-to-be's record holding brother, and the detective assigned to investigate the crime put forth by the Riverside Motel's supposedly sketchy and unreliable manager, become a part of this menagerie to make things better, but only end up complicating everything.
This is meant to be funny, though, as the two accidental killers are inexperienced, the detective keeps having to explain to those he interrogate that this is, indeed, not his fist day on the job, and the hotel manager somehow goes from the sole witness of the crime committed in that room to a psychotic man who enjoys watching kinky goings-on in his hotel rooms. Nevertheless, this plot revolves around the effects of a suicide, and how each character steps up to deal with the situation at hand by having his or her opinion heard really shapes this play into the masterpiece that it is.
Panic literally begins with a bang - a gunshot fired followed by a body sinking to the floor, inert and lifeless as a shocked couple covered in blood begins to scream and quite literally "panic.". Kaitlin (played by Olivia Rose Barresi) and Jake (Michael Orlandi) argue over everything that comes to mind at that moment: why the couple started selling cocaine to pay for the lavish wedding Kaitlin has in mind, how inadequate Jake's parents are for not offering to pay for any of it, and why, in God's name, are numerous ice sculptures really needed to impress the wedding guests. Finally, Kaitlin agrees to call her brother, Billy (Thom Christensen), who already has a record and has become the couple's "dead body" guy, who comes in to efficiently take care of the situation. When the manager (well done, Mr. Tom Cappadona) knocks on the door to investigate the massive amounts of yelling and fighting going on in room 105, he becomes the only witness to a crime that, in their chaos, the threesome barely makes any pains to conceal. This later brings in Detective Miller (Tom Burka), who distorts the entire account of what happened and creates so many different scenarios and theories as to what happened between the couple and its accomplice (all of whom he believes to be Mexicans) that his enigmatic mind gradually becomes the play's second center of focus. With all the evidence pointing to the trio of Kaitlin, Jake and Billy, the crime is almost too easily solved - that is, until the Detective needs to get out of his own mess!
Panic at the Riverside Motel, despite its fundamentally serious nature, is really one of those simple, comedic, entertaining "feel-good" shows that is versatile enough to have its own musical repertoire, if Pastore ever chose to make this into a musical. It's funny, sexy, and just absurd enough to make everything said and every argument put forward crazy enough to sound rational. Yes, Detective Miller is an experienced and cognizant member of the force, but unfortunately does not understand his own emphasis he places on the presence of evidence. Just when he has the answer, he suddenly remembers another fact, and vehemently sticking to his guts, distorts the entire situation. Why does Kaitlin have the dead man's license in her bra? She wanted to figure out why Alex decided to shoot himself in front of the couple who was to sell him $50,000 worth of cocaine. A touching moment, yes, but when the Detective pulls that same license out of Billy's back pocket, it becomes the trio's means of escape instead of the sole piece of evidence that would land them all in prison.