Someone has some very deep pockets, spending freely for this first rate production of MANIPULATION by Victoria E. Calderon which has just opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Money they will most probably never see again or make a profit on.
The cage-like scenic design replete with turntable by Bill Stabile representing the rich household of Mauricio (Robert Bogue) and his wife Cristina (Marina Squerciati) and various other locations is simple yet opulent by Off-Broadway standards. The ultra chic costumes worn by Christina and her mother Beatriz (Saundra Santiago) by Alejo Vietti could be couture. The art work for the poster is an original BOTTERO.
Too bad there isn’t a play on stage worthy of this production. What we get instead is some strange story of a woman (Ms. Squerciati) who seemingly has everything and yet is a tortured soul. Her mother Beatriz (Saundra Santiago) dispensing advise like a PEZ dispenser is there but isn’t there. A ruthless, philandering husband (the same can be said of him) “manipulates” her like a marionette. Dr. Lublitz (Jeremy Stiles Holm) a psychiatrist wants to have sex with her. There is a family friend Luis (Rafi Silver) who she takes as a lover and her revolutionary lover Poeta (Brendan McMahon) a poet making him an easy mark for the overly romantic but confused Cristina. Anti depressants don’t even help her.
It’s all very ridiculous in the manner of a Telemundo soap opera. Funny without meaning to be. Pretentious in the extreme with the aforementioned marionettes symbolically opening this saga accompanied by Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
No one speaks like this. The dialogue is stilted and unbelievable. The situations fare no better. Jumping about from the rich household to the shrink’s couch to a prison where Cristina winds up – a captive from the rebels in some Latin American town of today.
Will Pomerantz, the director – the second director – has attempted to juice up the lame script which seems to have been greatly edited (there are many gaps) with music and marionettes, beautiful outfits and anything else he could think of to get your mind off of the mindless script which only exaggerates the lack of what he is trying to improve upon.
The main reason I was interested in seeing MANIPULATION is that Cristina is played by Marina Squerciati. I had seen her in “Just in Time – The Judy Holliday Story” where she did a sensational job as Judy Holliday. I am glad to report that she is an excellent actress as you would never think that both parts were played by the same actress. Here she is totally believable in a rather unbelievable role and that takes really good acting abilities.
Ms. Santiago, her mother, has to be one of the chicest actresses around. Despite having to float about in reality and fantasy and playing a not very likable woman she succeeds in charming everyone on stage and off. Unfortunately these two performances are not enough to warrant a trip to the Cherry Lane.
www.manipulationtheplay.com Through August 21st. Maybe. Tickets $68.50
Photo: Carol Rosegg
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