Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fringe of Humanity


Paul Calderon packs so many obscenities into his play Fringe of Humanity that they nearly form a barrier between the audience and the characters. The scatology can’t be defended by claims to verisimilitude or naturalism; it’s just vulgar writing. Mr. Calderon doesn’t seem to be able to write a line without obscenity.

And this is a shame since Fringe of Humanity, presented by Primitive Grace and Access Theater at The Access Theatre off-off-Broadway, is otherwise a nice production. It concerns an L.A. film crew making a movie in a Latin American country. They’re in pre-production, still casting, about to scout for locations. The characters argue and jockey for alpha position, working through greed and vanity and jealousy. “You wanna make movies, you gotta deal with assholes,” says the producer, and the foul-mouthed characters confirm the postulate.

The immediate business for these movie-makers is to audition a couple of young actresses in the hotel room. But the audition doesn’t take up all that much time, actually. More time is spent with the men arguing among themselves. One hothead pulls out a knife a couple of times, but it doesn’t amount to anything. These characters are just volatile and infantile. Mr. Calderon makes us believe in them, but he never makes us care about them.

There’s not much plot here, but Mr. Calderon, who also directs, keeps the play full of dramatic action. He keeps the dialogue moving allegro, and he makes each beat clear and crisp. He often has salsa music playing under the dialogue, and it gives the play a frenetic tone. From time to time the rhythm climaxes in an exciting moment, very well done. Unfortunately, Mr. Calderon doesn’t leave his actors time to think between beats, and he directs them to yell.

Mr. Calderon himself plays the central role of the director, expressively, if not with subtlety. David Zayas plays the producer; he’s servicable but he shouts too much, all bluster. We get a first-rate performance from Jakob Von Eichel as an assistant director. He has opposites in his character that make for a depth the other characters lack. Rebecca Nyahay also works very well as the producer’s wife, succeeding when she’s called upon to be hysterical. We miss a structured plot in this production, but the cast keep us absorbed.

Mr. Calderon, then, is a better actor than playwright and a better director than actor. His vision isn’t totally bleak. Some of the characters indicate a real moral fiber after the play’s crisis; it’s the producer who’s an affront to decency. He shows an interesting facet of his character when he calls himself an artist, and he calls his work “commercial art, but art nevertheless.” There’s an insecurity in him that’s only suggested.

All in all, Fringe of Humanity is an interesting study of characters. It seems to be a cautionary tale warning New York actors to keep away from the L.A. film industry. And it’s a vehicle for some work that’s engaging – obscenities aside – if unremarkable.

Steve Capra
January 2017