Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Theater Review: Extinction

Michael Weston and James Roday. Carol Rosegg photo


Where Do Relationships Really Begin and End?
By Lauren Yarger
Two old friends get together for an annual weekend of debauchery in Atlantic City, but one of the men’s reluctance to join in the usual sex, drugs, gambling and drinking games this time around tests the boundaries of their relationship as well as how they define themselves in Gabe McKinley’s play Extinction Off Broadway.

Wealthy Max (Michael Weston) offers to bankroll the fun when Finn (James Roday) reveals that he has been wiped out trying to save his mother’s failed restaurant. Max offers money to finance his friend's graduate studies, orders room service and provides alcohol and cocaine in bulk to get Finn in the party mood, but it doesn't work. Finn confesses that he has married a woman they knew in college and that they are expecting a baby. He wants to turn over a new leaf and somehow, competing in a contest with Max where their conquests are assigned points – three points for single women, five for those who are married – just doesn't appeal.

Max is hurt, not only by Finn’s decision to embrace a more traditional life, but because Finn unexpectedly didn’t invite him to the wedding, let alone ask him to stand as best man. He decides to forgive and forget – well, at least to forget everything Finn has said – and asks the prostitute he has purchased for the evening to bring a friend along as a surprise for Finn.

Prostitute Missy (Amanda Detmer) dominates her relationship with the inexperienced Victoria (Stephanie E. Frame) much in the same way Max dominates his with Finn, and she coaches the recently unemployed girl about how to solve her financial problems by being with Finn.

The women try to remain pleasing even while the hostility between the men smolders, then bursts into a conflagration when a game of “remember when” turns ugly. Director Wayne Kasserman skillfully places the actors and brings out performances that show the progressively unattractive side of both men. The clever set designed by Steven C. Kemp (lighting design, Mike Durst) keeps the action in the two men’s hotel rooms separate, but simultaneously viewable. When the two women are left on their own for a few minutes, we discover that their relationship with each other and how they define themselves individually are just as vulnerable to extinction as those of their “dates.”

Roday flings humorous one-liners back and forth with Weston, who ironically happens to be a real-life friend from their NY University days as is McKinley, but the actor sounds nothing like his popular Shawn Spencer character on the hit TV show "Psych," despite the fact that Shawn and his sidekick Gus often share the same kind of banter. (Dulé Hill who plays Gus also happens to be a producer on Extinction and to complete the old-home week theme, Weston also guest starred on an episode of "Psych.") At the curtain call, I could see Roday physically remove himself from the character of Finn in evidence of some great acting.

Though the subject matter is difficult, McKinley injects a lot of sharp humor throughout. He also offers some implied morality about the consequence of some of the poor decisions the men make, about how avoiding temptation probably is the better choice and about how some decisions can come back to haunt you. It’s the type of play that lends itself to lots of discussion after the final curtain. The script also offers a thought-provoking surprise ending.

Extinction plays through March 14 at the Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce St., NYC. Visit http://www.cherrylanetheatre.org/playing.php?page=guest for more information.

Christians also might like to know:
• Sexual activity and violent sexual activity
• Sexual dialogue
• Drug use
• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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