Wednesday, June 17, 2009

FUBAR or Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantastic


By Karl Gajdusek. Directed by Larissa Kokernot. (CLOSED)

It's been awhile since I've compiled reviews that range from A to F for one show, but FUBAR, presented as part of the Americans Off-Broadway series at 59e59, gets that dubious honor. TV writer and playwright Karl Gajdusek's play about a marriage undone by San Francisco itself during the turn of the millennium makes Backstage's pick of the week and Lighting & Sound America's shit list (or it would, if such a list existed). Caught in between are several critics whose reviews express the general belief that the script is promising but uneven and stretches to fill its over two hour running length.

Backstage A
(Gwen Orel) Theatrical shock and awe. So smart, entertaining, stylish, and surprising is Karl Gajdusek's play that it risks looking too slick and hip in any description....Larissa Kokerknot's stylish direction brings out the fundamental humanity in all the characters. The actors show us the characters' vulnerability, rage, beauty, and wonder as they move through a shifting world.

Variety B
(Sam Thielman) A flawed script with an enviable surfeit of good ideas, Karl Gajdusek's San Francisco hipster dramedy FUBAR is less a play than a series of theatrical character studies, some very successful...The writer is trying hard to make this play about twin San Franciscos -- the carefree adult-kid world of David and Sylvia, and the nasty underbelly Mary explores with a boxing trainer named DC (Dan Patrick Brady). But there's enough play here already, without the artificial brutality. When Gajdusek writes Mary and Sylvia's final confrontation, he comes across something unexpectedly sweet and fine, and when he forces us to sympathize with Richard, he does the nearly impossible.

NYTimes B
(Andy Webster) An engrossing evocation of a time (the turn of the millennium) and a place (San Francisco, awash in Web money, pharmaceutical acronyms and online sexual encounters). Written by Karl Gajdusek, a San Francisco native, the play, for all its contrivances, rings true in feeling if not in plausibility... The second act suffers from unlikely reversals and strained revelations, and yet the production pulses like an all-night Ecstasy-fueled rave, punctuated with techno-heavy sound design by Amit Prakash and arresting projections by Shawn E. Boyle. (One amusing highlight is a purple instant-message exchange between David and Sylvia, their words appearing on a wall as they heatedly pound them out on laptops.)

TheaterMania B-
(Dan Bacalzo) Promising but uneven... McCarthy projects a smugness as Richard that's grating, and the performer doesn't take his characterization much further -- particularly in his last big scene in which he should engender more audience sympathy. As Richard's wife Sylvia, Stephanie Szostak indicates her character's motivations and emotional states too broadly. Rounding out the cast is Dan Patrick Brady as DC, a boxer with whom Mary seeks out lessons following her brutal beating. The play, directed by Larissa Kokernot, runs two hours and twenty minutes, and could use some trimming.

Time Out New York C+
(David Cote) Although skillfully staged by Larissa Kokernot with a talented cast, the script is not without its faux-deep patches of navel-gazing dialogue and twee, unnecessary flashes of magic realism. Gajdusek also asks us to swallow one of those wild coincidences that happen only in plays...Is this an urban fable, or dreamy realism? No one says an author must stick to one genre, but it feels like Gajdusek hasn’t found the format to explore his potent themes of identity mutation.

CurtainUp C+
(Paulanne Simmons) FUBAR... has an intriguing premise. It might even live up to some of those adjectives in the subtitle — Interesting, Incredible, Amazing, Fantastic — and be a gripping and penetrating play if the writer and director Larissa Kokernot had exercised a bit more self-control... Perhaps with the theater scene so crammed with work clamoring for attention, Gajdusek felt compelled to give the audience enough cursing, undressing, drug addiction and other aspects of the seamier side of San Francisco to keep even the most ardent thrill-seeker happy. But with the talent heso obviously has, he could and should let his work thrive on the merit of his important themes and skillful use of language.

Lighting and Sound America F
(David Barbour) Despite some outrageous coincidences in the second act, the play moves at a molasses pace to a not-terribly-surprising conclusion. Key time-passers include a scene in which three characters sit at their laptops, typing chat messages, which are projected on the set, and another in which Richard cooks an omelet while Mary watches silently...Larissa Kokernot's slow-moving staging, filled alternately with pauses and people yelling at each other, does nothing to minimize the script's pretentiousness. Nobody among the five-person cast distinguishes him- or herself.

BS A 13; NYT B 10; V B 10; TM B- 9; TONY C+ 8; CU C+ 8; LSA F 1; TOTAL: 59/7 = 8.43 (C+)


Anonymous said...

Running time including intermission is 2:10. It was 2:20 at first preview and by opening it was 2:10. The curtain speech has mistakenly not been adjusted. It was never 2:30.

Gregor said...

Hm , Backstage? Or Sound and Lighting America? Hey, someone wrote it, so it's of completely equal value! A bit of a flaw in critic-o-meter. I saw this play last night and while it may not be perfect, there is a ton of material worth considering and writing about. Barbour's shallow review is filled with a kind of contempt that suggests he'd be a happier person if he stopped reviewing plays. It's a flaw in your grading that you give a hack like that the same respect as someone writing for variety or backstage.

isaac butler said...


Lighting and Sound America might not have the hugest pedigree as a publication of critical response, but the fact of the matter is, David Barbour's reviews for that site are (in general) lengthier, more in depth, and quite a bit more thoughtful than most of the reviews out there. Also, since he writes for a site devoted to design, he is pretty much the only reviewer who thoughtfully comments on design elements and how they impact a production.

Disagreeing with someone (even strenuously) doesn't make them a hack. No one's opinion is equivalent to objective reality. The only question is: does David Barbour as a reviewer write in bad faith? I think if you look over his track record (much of which is available on this site) he does not.

isaac butler said...

PS: This link will take you to all of the shows that David Barbour has reviewed that appear on Critic-O-Meter. One of the nice things about the internet is that before you go out and call someone a hack filled with contempt for the art form of theatre, you can go very swiftly access a large amount of information to attempt to verify it.

Unknown said...


The anonymous post is accurate. And looking at the reviews-- I don't think any of them actually say the show runs 2:30. I'm guessing this may have been due to confusion about intermission, but the listed running time (2:20) always included intermission.

Mind at least changing it to 2:20 in your summary? I'd hate to have people not see what I think is a great show due to a misconception about its length. Especially given that as of opening (2 days after first preview) the show was running 2:10 including intermission, and now is running just under 2:05 including intermission. The curtain speech has now been adjusted to "runs just over 2 hours."

Also-- this may seem a nitpick, but I don't think your "way too long" is a fair paraphrase of what any of the critics in the middle you reference wrote. The closest I can find is Theatermania's "could use some trimming." But I don't think that's really an equivalent statement.

Anyway-- that is all-- hope you get a chance to check out the show.

Parabasis said...

Hey Ryan (and anon),

I fixed the running time thing and gently edited that sentence to perhaps more accurately reflect what the reviews were saying.

Unfortunately, I can't come see the show because i am in rehearsals during every single one of its performances! Ryan, I'll have to check out some of your work another time.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thanks Isaac, much obliged. And sorry I'm somehow unable to spell your name correctly. Yikes.

Gwen Orel said...

I have met David Barbour and he seems pretty smart.

Naturally, I like my own review better. Because, of course, it's right.

Gwen (Back Stage)