Book and Lyrics by Arnold Weinstein and John Wulp; Music by Sam Davis; Directed by Ted Sperling
Produced by Amas Musical Theatre
Off Broadway, New Musical
Runs through 9.28.14
Dicapo Theatre, 184 East 76th Street
by Seth Bogner on 9.4.14
Alli Mauzey and Josh Grisetti in Red Eye of Love. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: Like Chelsea on a Saturday night, this musical is a veritable meat market.
It's a tale as old as time. Unemployed but hopeful dreamer meets beautiful social-climbing ingénue and falls head over heels. Bonding over a shared love of movies, the young lovers instantly promise their devotion and begin to imagine what their life would be like together. But the girl has a secret, she has already promised herself to a wealthy egocentric older man. Though she feels no love or even empathy for him, she is attracted to the life he can offer her. So she must choose between the instant gratification of rags to riches or a long union filled with passion that may or may not prove to be financially beneficial.
What is not so familiar is the absurdity of the show. And that is not a judgment call, because Red Eye of Love is literally an absurdist musical. Based on the Arnold Weinstein play of the same name, the plot could describe any number of movies or musicals that tug forcefully on our heartstrings and prey on our idealist, very American, love-will-conquer-all leanings. However in this case there is meat involved, from the choice to the stew variety; in fact, much of the action takes place at a department store filled with meat. The cuts in question are trotted on to the stage by the hard working chorus members (who also portray the once living creatures) and are used, I wish I could say to great, comedic effect.
The wealthy older man in this scenario is illiterate meat impresario O.O. Martinas (a relatively bland Kevin Pariseau) who opens the show with “Good Old O.O.”, a production number detailing his brilliance and love of all things (you guessed it) meat. There are also dolls involved, unnatural and repetitive dialogue, a child that appears out of nowhere, huge jumps in time that are covered in a sentence or two, and enough off color jokes to make the Upper East Side audience groan. The juxtaposition of the well-worn plot with these absurdist elements should be enough to keep things interesting, but mostly it’s just off-putting, as the show itself, directed by Ted Sperling with choreography by Lainie Sakakura and Alex Sanchez, seems as confused as we are.
Also working against all involved is the venue. Playing at the large and conference- room-like Dicapo Theatre, the production is swallowed up by the smooth lacquered walls; it would fair much better at an older and more intimate space. Luckily the music is good, as composed by Sam Davis with lyrics by Arnold Weinstein and John Wulp, who also provide the book. The score is a pastiche wonder that expertly brings to mind the stage shows of the early Twentieth Century. The leading players are also very good: Alli Mauzey as Selma Chargesse has a vibrant stage presence and a lilting vocal quality that lends itself well to the period music, meanwhile Josh Grisetti as Wilmer Flange has a huge baritone and an almost Ray Bolger-like appeal. Both are funny, heartbreaking, and work very hard to sell this material (they’re so good in fact, they almost do.)
Red Eye of Love is not the worst musical I’ve ever seen, but I certainly would not want to sit through it again. It’s a shame that the talented players and composer could not have been tasked with a more appealing concept in which to apply their skills. Maybe one day we will say this show was ahead of its time, but if that means there will be more absurdist musicals in the future then we are all in for some long uncomfortable evenings.
(Red Eye of Love plays at the Dicapo Theatre, 184 East 76th Street, through September 28, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays 3PM and 8PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $25-$55 ($75 premium seating) and are available at SmartTix.com or by calling 212.868.4444.)