Brett Andres' play within a play Our Fantasies Are Eating Us Alive!, produced by SANDRep, premiered for a brief run at The City comedy club in Manhattan last week and is now being presented, for another brief run, at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City.
The embittered Hazzard Dean (Mr. Andres) suspects his wife Sarah (Alice Bahlke) of having an affair. Sitting in a bar and staring out at nothing, wondering where it all could have gone wrong, he knows how ugly it's going to get if he confronts Sarah, but he makes the tough choice to do so, with the help of his best pal, the Xanax-popping Wilson (Sam Albertsen). His friend's help isn't very much of a comfort to Hazzard, save for Wilson's humming of the 1980's hit "Break My Stride" by Matthew Wilder; he just keeps popping Xanax after Xanax. Hazzard's nerves are completely shot, but he slowly musters the courage to walk into his home for his confrontation with Sarah.
His suspicions are confirmed when he finds Sarah in the arms of the loutish Hoyt (Thom Brown III), who may or may not be connected to the mob. A fight breaks out between the two men, but it doesn't last long; Hoyt is shot dead with his own gun by Sarah. There's a dead body on the floor. Hazzard and Sarah's marriage is on the rocks. After the shooting, Wilson enters choking on a Xanax. There's so much to deal with, but first…they decide to have a cocktail?
Suddenly, a stagehand (Max Stein) enters and delivers drinks to the cast onstage as they mull over their options, which are few. The cast doesn't miss a beat. They take their drinks and continue pondering their dilemma.
A man sitting next to me broke into raucous laughter, and the rest of the audience followed suit right on his heels, getting in on the joke. It is a hilarious sequence and a subtle and perfectly placed notice to the audience that the play we are about to see is not real.
Hazzard, Sarah and Wilson all come from the mind of "the playwright," played by Zack Springer. Shortly after the "drink scene" the play cuts to his apartment where we find him in Super Mario Brothers t-shirt and boxers. Springer is struggling with this, his latest play, and with his identity. He is a ball of nerves, smoking pot to mellow out, always thinking of that next line or plot twist, all the while refusing to deal with the possible demise of his relationship with Meg Mark, who is reading this very play when we are first introduced to them, but doesn't seem to get it. A tense discussion follows about the play (including a funny bit about post-modernism), eventually delving into deeper, darker, personal territory. They suspect each other of having an affair, but it is uncertain who is being truthful.
I don't want to give away too much, but I will say that what follows is a hysterically funny romp from start to finish, which includes everything from an evil playwright (an evil Springer) to an invisible kid (Hazzard and Sarah's son Danny) and that stagehand, who, it turns out, was hired to be a musician for the "production," except all the music has been cut, much to his chagrin.
The production never ceases to provide laughs, especially when it's poking fun at theatre styles and theatre in general, but it is also an insightful look into the minds of playwrights: their neuroses, frustrations, and struggles, both personal and professional.
Zipping along at 85 minutes, the production was directed with aplomb by Lawrence Lesher and expertly performed by the strong ensemble of playwright Brett Andres, Sam Albertsen, Alice Bahlke, Thom Brown III, Meg Mark, Zack Springer and Max Stein, each playing off each other like seasoned comedy veterans.
Kudos to Secret Theatre artistic director Richard Mazda for opening his doors to this production. Even though the run here is brief (ends Saturday night) I have high hopes for Our Fantasies Are Eating Us Alive!
Two words, Mr. Andres: Fringe Festival.