Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From: The Miami Herald

Date: September 26, 1994

Author: Christine Dolan

And you thought David Mamet's plays were dirty.

Heed this warning: If you're offended by the foul poetry of Mamet's writing, you'll probably require hospitalization should you stumble into Arthur Kopit's Road to Nirvana, a satire of both Mamet and Hollywood that's turning the air inside Area Stage blue.

Deliberately and relentlessly offensive, Nirvana is a kind of gloves-off version of Mamet's Speed-the-Plow; indeed, when it premiered at Louisville's Humana Festival, the Kopit play was called Bone-the-Fish.

In Kopit's Hollywood, noses sport more white powder than a baby's bottom, and the only certainty is that the other guy is lying -- usually while assuring you of his sincerity as he does a major kiss-up. Nirvana tracks the deliberate debasement of Jerry (Chaz Mena), who has slid from moviemaking's fast track to making sex-education films. Nevertheless, he's been summoned by his former partner Al (Dave Caprita) and Al's ladyfriend Lou (Elle Maslanova) to see if he's got the right stuff for another try at the brass ring.

The prize, fame and fortune, hangs on the success of Al's new property: a biopic of Nirvana (Ariane Nicole), America's hottest female rock star. (The similarity of "Nirvana" and "Madonna" is deliberate.) So what if the script is a bad rewrite of Moby Dick, with Nirvana as Ahab and a giant penis as the whale? Her fans will love it.

You must, by now, get the drift. Outrageousness is like breathing in Road to Nirvana. To demonstrate his loyalty, Jerry is asked to slice his wrists and to act upon the vulgar expression "eat s---." His ultimate sacrifice would give John Wayne Bobbitt flashbacks. But Jer? Takes it like a mensch.

Despite its title, Road to Nirvana is as far in tone from a Hope and Crosby road picture as Madonna is from Debby Boone. And it is no real surprise that Area would hire Joseph Adler to direct it. Adler's extensive experience includes both Mamet and more than a few productions that incorporate elements that are loud, violent, shocking or sexual: Who better in these parts to stage a play involving toplessness, castration and repeated use of the "F" word? That said, Adler has elected to emphasize what's real and truthful in Kopit's script rather than its over- the-top outrageousness. The choice may blunt some of the satire, but it allows the actors to achieve far more complex performances.

And that is the real thrill of Area's Road to Nirvana: an absolutely killer ensemble.

If you've only seen Mena do his multiple-character stuff at Area, you won't believe how subtle, moving and multifaceted he is as Jerry. Caprita, perhaps better known as the morning guy on Love 94 radio, brings out the unalterability of Al's character -- he's a mean-spirited sycophant -- but also depicts his struggle to give up drugs and booze. Maslanova's Lou is a deadpan wonder and far more complicated than she initially seems. And Nicole makes Nirvana both victim and savvy bully. In terms of design, Road to Nirvana is another stunning Area achievement. Darin Jones fits not one but two Hollywood palaces inside the theater's narrow space, and his lighting is California bright for Al's place, movie-star mysterious for Nirvana's. Steve Shapiro's thumping music and Stephen Simmons' striking costumes are similarly impressive.

The Road to Nirvana is a wild one. Travel it at your peril. Or pleasure.

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