Anton Ego, the food critic from the movie Ratatouille, rightly pointed out that not everyone can be a great artist. If every potential artist who dreamed the dream could be a success, art itself would cease to be interesting. But where does that leave the lower tier of artists, those who dream the dream but simply aren’t capable of achieving it?
It’s no small act of bravery that playwright Jeff Sproul and No Tea Productions, a company barely a year and a half old, should address the issue. For a company that is more than two degrees off-Broadway, the subject could be too painful. How lucky they are, then, to have produced The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy, a play that is wickedly smart, skillfully executed, and unflinchingly honest. Mark and Andy is certainly conscious of its modest situation, but has turned that very situation into a production that shows the company has all the tools to lift it out of a basement on St. Marks.
The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy is centered around two losers who have the conviction to make great art, but are utterly clueless about how to do it. This is not an unusual problem, but what plagues Mark and Andy, and their even less creative friends, is their lack of awareness of how clueless they truly are. Mark and Andy are not writing their paranormal cop show for fun—they’re legitimately trying to break into an artistic world that may as well be located on Mars.
As amateurish as their talents are, their self-righteousness and sense of paranoia and jealousy are of the kind usually seen in much greater men. Mark in particular shows an ego, volatility, and temper that we usually think of when we think of Oliver Stone or Quentin Tarantino. But Mark is certainly no Tarantino, and that only amplifies his pettiness.
The play would be a much lesser accomplishment if it focused simply on the absurdity of Mark and Andy’s dreams. Andy’s girlfriend Janine is the most consistent spokesperson for reality in the play, more so even than her filmmaker friend Rachel (Dana Rossi), who is too defensive of her professionalism to gain a proper perspective. Every real human emotion in Mark and Andy, and all its desired sympathies, are funneled through Janine, and Sabrina Farhi does an admirable job handling the most challenging role of the play.
Janine, however, is not the most sympathetic character, nor is Rossi’s performance the true standout. That distinction goes to Matt Sears’ Andy, who, despite his slacker tendencies and laid-back demeanor, is the closest thing to a hero in this play. He still humors the hopeless dream, but not to the point where he loses his sense of right and wrong. Andy wants to pursue his goals while remaining inclusive and making everyone happy; stepping over someone for success is the last thing on his mind.
From before the lights even go up, Sears naturally sinks into the role, moving and acting like a loser, but one who is nonetheless exceedingly likable. Yet Andy, who is incapable of taking leadership of any project, is not perfect himself, in the same way that Mark, acted by the playwright Sproul, is still a redeemable character despite his general dickishness.
If Mark and Andy are unaware of their surroundings, the play’s creators, including director Lindsey Moore, are finely in tune with their own. Towards the end of the play, Mark and Andy rent out a tiny theatrical space—a space not unlike the diminutive UNDER St. Marks Theater. We are treated to a play within a play that is painfully bad but hilariously appropriate, even if the stupidity is overplayed a little bit. Moore and Sproul have deftly used the minute scale of the production to suit their purposes. This kind of theatrical thrift puts to shame the ineffective extravagances of most higher budget shows.
The Artistical Process of Mark and Andy is by no means a perfect play: the tone of the dialogue struggles with consistency, and the low-budget production often commits the kind of gaffes that the play itself seeks to mock. But the real success lies precisely in Mark and Andy's modesty. That a play this minor could succeed so greatly even in New York is a reason for hope for American theater.
Mark and Andy comes at the same time as [title of show], a play that has self-consciously made it to Broadway through sheer willpower. That play, however, has used the same motivation to simply make it at all. No Tea Productions has taken what’s been given to them and, through seemingly nothing but sheer ingenuity and enthusiasm, created a work of theater that surpasses its space and all that could be expected from it. Anton Ego was right that not everyone can be a great artist. He was also right that a great artist could come from anywhere.
Through August 9 at the UNDER St. Marks Theater. The Aristical Process of Mark and Andy was written by Jeff Sproul and directed by Lindsey Moore. It stars Sproul (Mark), Matt Sears (Andy), Sabrina Farhi (Janine), Jeremy Mather (Collin), Timothy Maher (Brett), Dana Rossi (Rachel), Alicia Barnatchez (Amber), and D. Robert Wolcheck (Jay). Tickets can be purchased online at SmartTix.