Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“The Princeton Seventh” was part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in August 2010 and has been reprised in August 2015 for FringeNYC. And that is good news for those who have the opportunity to see James Vculek’s quirky drama about the process of writing and the fine line between what is real and what is fiction.
The audience witnesses what might be the truth in Act II. Princeton scholar and writer Max Lonoff (Richard Ooms) arrives in a Midwestern town with his devoted wife Mindel (Alayne Hopkins) to deliver an homage to a recently deceased poet. He meets fellow Princeton alum and author Jack Cutler (Alex Cole) who has been chatting with a Man (Ari Hoptman) who claims to have been part of a prestigious group of Princeton scholars (the Princeton Six) that included Lonoff. Mr. Vculek has the ability to make dialogue intricately fascinating and his meticulous direction results in the fast-paced and delicious repartee between all parties that results in the outing of the Man as a phony and a fraud who in reality begged to be the seventh in Lonoff’s group.
What the audience witnesses in Act I might be the fictional account of what the audience discovers actually happened later in Act II when Cutler meets the Man meets Lonoff. Both Acts are written with layer upon layer of rich exposition that gives the charters an authenticity and believability and compelling personal and professional conflicts that drive a pair of engaging plots. Truth and fiction exist side-by-side and create a metacognitive dimension that defies definition and description. What actually happens and how that becomes a novel is explored with uncanny charm.
The ensemble cast is remarkable in both Acts redefining their characters and making them rich and interesting and believable. Ari Hoptman is quirky and clever in his dual roles. Alex Cole defines and redefines a Jack Cutler who can be filled with vengeful rage or infused with scholarly inquisitiveness. Richard Ooms successfully creates a Max Lonoff who is on the one hand a caricature and on the other a professor reflecting calmly on the events of the past. Alayne Hopkins shines as trophy wife in Act I and overzealous caregiving wife in Act II. And Isy Abraham-Raveson is the waitress extraordinaire who can handle any customer request with the appropriate aplomb.
Whether in 2010 or in 2015 or as a quick read (see below), “The Princeton Seventh” is a mind-exercising bit of great theatre.