If this review were written by Stefano Donato [Aaron Davis], one of the characters of “Critical Mass,” it would start like this:
“Critical Mass” isn’t a particularly fantastic play, but it isn’t exactly horrible either.
Taking the audience inside the mind of two opera critics, journalists especially will get a kick out of the comedy in “Critical Mass.” However, with mediocre acting by the majority of the female cast, the intriguing and intelligent story gets lost by the end.
In spite of that, it does have a few charming and cute moments that bring it past the mediocre, thanks to the performances of Davis and Zac Hoogendyk.
When Donato comes to the home of two critics, Norman and Carrie Greenlea [Hoogendyk and Leigh Williams] looking for a place to stay after he claims a review one of them wrote cost him his career, all hell breaks loose in the home. Trying to have a baby, the Greenleas have their ethics and morals challenged as writers, as well as their very livelihood by the broken and sinister, yet terribly charming Italian.
What ensues is an artsy comedy that makes us think more than laugh. Critics have a particularly tough job and Hoogendyk shows us this first-hand, as he is first the victim of his wife’s cruelty and later Donato’s. His struggle to be morally fair and equally honest is one that critics go through every day and one that the majority of the public never sees. The later conversations between the trio and editor, Cedric West [Marc Geller] again show us the dilemma many writers face when they share their opinion.
These parts of the play are the most enjoyable because they are deep and full of emotion. Most of the other times, the audience is laughing thanks to the interaction between Davis and Hoogendyk, who form a nice comedic duo at one point.
Fear of getting your kneecaps busted by the mafia will do that to a man.
However, while Davis and Hoogendyk work well with one another, Williams never fits in, as she comes off too brash and too forced to be truly enjoyable. This is a character that goes through an emotional journey throughout the performance, but through Williams’ loud and extra rigid portrayal, we never feel anything solid for her.
The same thing goes for Shorey Walker who plays Donato’s wife, Francesca. In over her head throughout the performance, Walker is unable to pull off the various accents needed to make her character believable. One scene in general has her eating pasta and changing her voice nearly every sentence. This could not have been by design and goes to prove that Walker was not the right person for this part. The Italian accent she uses for the majority of the show is off and as a result, she fails to turn in a solid performance. When she starts dressing up as other characters, she gets some laughs, but when she speaks, those laughs give way to scoffing.
Other characters in the performance also feel forced, as Geller, although adorable and wise at times, ends up feeling phony, mainly due to dialogue that doesn’t challenge his ability. The same thing goes for Laura Faith’s portrayal of Cathy Rhino, who in spite of her beauty is the victim of shoddy writing, as her character is simply a plot device to advance the story.
These problems could be forgiven if the play didn’t end with everything tied up into a pretty little bow at the end. At the heart of “Critical Mass” is a litany of controversy. You have children being fathered by married opera singers, a huge scheme of redemption and plagiarism and every other journalistic law being broken. Had the play taken a little bit longer to delve into all of these subjects and more fun was had, then “Critical Mass” could have ended up being better than it eventually was.
Lively and ludicrous at times, “Critical Mass” ultimately fails as a comedy in part to a congestion of themes that are never fully developed and actors that are miscast or aren’t able to captivate.
Photo Credit: Erin Unanue