Playing With Fire

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The latest addition to the growing genre of stage adaptations of plays by the great masters that scale their sources down to a collection of indecipherable scenes that are just trying their darndest to be erotic is Playing With Fire, The Private Theatre’s environmental/multi-media combo that is rumored to have something to do with August Strindberg.

I could use up a paragraph explaining the plot of the evening’s same-named source – an 1893 comedy of a love and sex triangle – but really, none of it is the least bit recognizable in Royston Coppenger’s clichéd stylized adaptation featuring language that has the actors continually sounding like they’re speaking in italics.

There’s no program, so it’s hard to tell which of the 14 actors is playing who, especially since they all take turns during the performance in playing the piece’s six characters.  Let’s just say there’s a lot of talk about sex and love alternating with scenes of seduction and a good deal of clothes-on dry humping.  For the record, the only nudity I caught was one bare breast, but there are lengthy periods of under-the-clothes fondling accompanied by very heavy breathing. 

But where Playing With Fire succeeds nicely is in creating a fun, atmospheric environment well-suited for enjoying a cocktail or two.  The Box, a venue known for its late night erotic vaudevilles, is a lovely jewel box, looking like a miniature one-balcony opera house.  The least expensive tickets give you one drink and standing room at the back bar and at the higher end there’s table service up front that includes a bottle of champagne.  Although there’s a stage, director John Gould Rubin places the action all over the space so nobody gets a full view of everything, but video designers Ian Brownell and Raj Kottamasu have four camera operators following the actors so that the entire piece is visible on monitors.

With composers Kwan-Fai Lam and Sam Kindel supplying a techno soundscape and Bronwen Carson providing some frenetic, sexed-up choreography, there’s always something to grab your attention, either on the screen or inches away from you.  And at merely an hour long, Playing With Fire manages to sustain a flame bright enough to get you through the closing credits.

Photo by Lilly Charles.

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Posted on August 23, 2012 - by

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About the Author: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.

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