Wednesday, June 17, 2009



Devised by Waterwell. Composed by Lauren Cregor and Waterwell. Dir. Tom Ridgely. Chor. Monica Bill Barnes. 59E59. (CLOSED)

Critics lament the fact that #9 isn't as strong a piece as they'd expect from Waterwell. The general consensus is that though there are some strong insights about new technologies such as Facebook and Twitter in the first half, ultimately the second half fails to arrive at a satisfying conclusion. Critics point out a few memorable numbers, but for the most part find the music to be a weaker aspect of the show, except for Paulanne Simmons (CurtainUp), who singles it out as the highlight. Even critics less than enamored with the production make it a point to emphasize Waterwell's value in the off-off-Broadway community.

Theatermania A
(Sandy MacDonald) Marshall McLuhan would probably have approved the message implicit in #9, the highly amusing and extremely ambitious experimental chamber musical collectively created by Waterwell, now at 59E59 Theaters, about life in the Internet age... Writer/director Tom Ridgely guides his cast briskly through their rapidly transmogrifying paces, amid Nick Benacerraf's media-rich and literally "wired" set. What with all the scene/character-shifting, not to mention the weighty philosophical underpinnings, I'll admit to being often perplexed -- but always pleasurably so.

Time Out New York B-
(Adam Feldman) The divine Hanna Cheek is always fascinating to watch onstage; but although she is joined here once again by the amusingly dandyish Kevin Townley, two other core Waterwell members—Arian Moayed and Rodney Gardiner—are missing in action. The capable Matt Dellapina and David Ryan Smith, stepping into roles clearly written for the absent men, can’t quite plug the hole. While it is bold of the company to create an entirely original text, rather than an adaptation, the result seems adrift: As the play progresses, Dellapina and Smith’s plotlines dissipate, Tom Ridgely’s direction gets smudgy and Lauren Cregor’s songs start to pile up on one another. (A long, late sequence that features Townley as the sun should be cut right now.) There is a lot to enjoy here, as in any Waterwell show; I only wish I could recommend it more fully.

The Village Voice B-
(Alexis Soloski) Though funny and clever—and featuring a quartet of fearless performances—#9, like the majority of online content, could use some editing. In the way of much devised theater, individual moments delight, but don't coalesce—it's theater as BitTorrent. Most songs need better integration into the text, and some ought to be cut altogether. (I'd nominate the incongruous biblical number.) Still, Off-Off-Broadway's a better place with Waterwell online. B-
(Loren Noveck) David's search for his family has the deepest emotional register (helped by David Ryan Smith's amazing singing voice and the emotion he brings out in song); and the slow realization of his deep pain, and his inability to share it directly, is haunting. Kevin's romantic quest, expertly handled by Kevin Townley (my favorite musical number is Kevin's dialogue with the potential matches presented to him), too, mixes a sort of determinedly cockeyed optimism with poignancy, and is both humorous and touching... Certain sections didn't connect for me at all—like a number of sequences set in "Echoland," a club that seems to be both virtual and real; although the club scenes feature some thoroughly enjoyable musical numbers, they sometimes seem to be showy for their own sake rather than serving a function in the show. And the jumping-around, nonlinear structure sometimes inspires unanticipated connections and sometimes just creates confusion—but I'm not sure it would be possible to tell this kind of story and ask these kinds of questions in any other form... Even if not always entirely successful, #9 is asking the questions we need to ask to live in this new world we've created.

Backstage C+
(Leonard Jacobs) Think of the first half of #9—which examines the innumerable ways in which technology, social networking in particular, affects how people interact with each other—as the best kind of first date you can possibly imagine: The chemistry is strong and dynamic; every element seems to fit. Think of the second half of #9 as, well, if not the worst second date you can possibly imagine, certainly one in which everything you thought you knew about the first date is suddenly revealed as synthetic. Disappointment reigns... Far too many themes and motifs laid down in the first half are not picked up and brought to their logical conclusions. Sadly, the chief culprit is the songs, which are co-credited to Lauren Cregor and the Waterwell collective. Yes, they serve as respites from all the frenetic scenes, but they are so wildly plentiful—needless if beautiful substitutes for narrative—that they thwart the impact of the piece. Less song, more story, please.

The New York Times C
(Claudia La Rocco) The cast is game, and remarkably pleasing considering how ill-conceived the material is. David Ryan Smith’s warm, mellow voice and stage presence do a lot, for example, to offset the fact that his character, David, spends the bulk of the show lamenting his recently killed father, creating online tributes to the man and singing songs with choice lyrics: Like I knew. Like a bat. Like the wave. Like heavy rain. Like a crank... There are a few nice choreographic tidbits by Monica Bill Barnes, who gives the cast mechanical little flourishes and one memorable montage including flamenco, Irish step dancing, tap and more. But there isn’t much else to remember in this thin concept piece. Sites like Twitter and Facebook may drive us to distraction, but as technologies go they, much like “#9,” are not particularly threatening — or dramatic.

Lighting & Sound America C-
(David Barbour) With most of the interesting stuff front-loaded into the first half-hour, #9 ends up running on fumes for most its 100-minute running time. It's possible that the director, Tom Ridgely, working with the company, could carve out a solid piece lasting an hour, or even a little more. As it is, despite an attractive and game cast, I was ready to log off long before the piece was over. The production does have a clever scenic design by Nick Benacerraf, in which the walls of the theatre are covered with newspapers, cable, fluorescent light tubes, and a couple of video screens -- the latter displaying the Twitter page to which all are encouraged to send tweets during the show. Alex Koch, the video designer, also provides some amusing content, including pre-show talk by an animated Noah Wyle, "of the hit television series ER." ("Perhaps you remember White Oleander," he adds, hopefully.) The lighting, by Stacey Boggs, and the sound, by Chris Rummel, are both serviceable, and Elizabeth Payne's costumes seem suited to each cast member. I suspect that the wandering structure of #9 seems intended to match the nonlinear nature of the web, in which one bit of information connects to another, leading one down endless blind alleys of data that never arrive at anything like a conclusion. In the theatre, however, one expects somebody to get to the point sooner or later -- and, somehow, #9 never quite does that.

CurtainUp D+
(Paulanne Simmons) About halfway into the piece the writers seemed to have been having so much fun that they forgot what they were originally writing about. All that's left is a vague commentary on the pitfalls and possibilities of the technological age (the audience is encouraged to twitter comments throughout)... The best part of the evening are the songs composed by Lauren Gregor. The upbeat score combines rock, country, blues, even Eastern-inflected music in an original and engaging way. Cheek gives some sexy twists and turns as she vamps to a few numbers, and Townley is an excellent Elvis impersonator. Smith brings the audience happily back to the days when soul ruled the way rap does today. As to why are there songs at all in this production and what music's function is in the technological world— Waterwell apparently doesn't believe it was necessary to address these questions.

Theatermania A 13; TONY B- 9; The Village Voice B- 9; B- 9; Backstage C+ 8; The New York Times C 7; Lighting & Sound America C- 6; CurtainUp D+ 5; TOTAL: 66/8 = 8.25 (C+)

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