“Loveplay/Playmoney” at La MaMa (Closed February 22, 2015)

February 15, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Sam Alper
Directed by Knud Adams
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

A naked man, a disco ball, and a discourse on drunk moose sets the events of  ‘Loveplay’ and it’s companion piece ‘Playmoney’ into motion. Written and performed (emceed, really) with loveable braggadocio by Sam Alper, the plays are a sequence of riffings on romance (Loveplay) and success. (Playmoney) With funky poetics, awkward vignettes, occasional improv and no fourth wall to speak of, Alper’s play comically probes what it means to be on the hunt for love and money in 2015.

Loveplay, the first installment, is composed of three scenes: First, a nude Alper (don’t worry, he’s tucked) delivers a short soliloquy on how moose get drunk on fermented apples. (perhaps to connect us with our inner intoxicated ungulate) The second scene portrays two actors (who are dating in real life) as they recall the beginnings of their relationship and have a tiny, manufactured spat as Alper eggs them on with a microphone. The third scene employs two single actors who implore members of the audience to ask them on a date.

The second play, Playmoney, is an effervescent blend of talk show and game show. Alper (now Lettermanesque) and his much maligned co-host (Peter Mills Weiss) interview three actors with differing levels of success in the industry. The interviewees each do a kind of performance (standup, song, and monologue) and the most expressive audience member wins a hefty cash prize. The interviewees chat with Sam about their careers, and bicker over the root causes of success.

There is a certain mechanical stiffness to the performers in Loveplay/Playmoney, the kind of absurd awkwardness that calls to mind Gob Squad or The State. Aside from the uncomfortable comedy it creates, this nonsensical rigidity serves as a pleasant contrast to the occasional moments of truth in the show. Cuteness is the name of the game in both pieces. Alper and director Knud Adams set out to craft a show in which the everyday apprehensions of love and achievement are distanced and lightly parodied, and for the most part they succeed.

The play suffers from an addiction to the modernist theatre tricks. The actors speak in perfect unison, alternating words, erupt in silly voices or song for no discernible reason other than to keep the crowd’s attention. One can’t help but wonder if the gimmicks are meant to mask otherwise dull segments. Whatever the case, the piece is so saturated with oddity the more delicate (and poignant) moments flounder.

But when the aesthetic works, it really works. The most striking moment of the play comes when an actor provokes Alper by implying his show would have never gone up at La Mama if he himself didn’t work there. It was the only time the audience gasped without a financial incentive.

While I think the ‘supremely awkward with a few shining moments of truth’ genre is switly going stale, it’s refreshing to find such a play that doesn’t take itself so painstakingly seriously. Fun and awkward, but never flying too close to the sun, Loveplay/Playmoney is charming millennial catharsis.