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Theatre Review (LA): Setup & Punch by Mark Saltzman at the Blank Theatre

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The Blank Theatre Company can usually be depended on to bring its audiences new, challenging work. Some highlights from past seasons include Dickie and Babe: The Truth About Leopold and Loeb, Lobster Alice, Chess, and Wild Party.

Setup & Punch is the company's latest offering, written by Mark Saltzman, who wrote Mrs. Claus (starring Angela Lansbury), Clutter (at The Colony Theatre), The Tin Pan Alley Rag (soon to open at The Roundabout in New York), and My Name Is Alice (co-author).  He has won seven Emmy Awards for his work on Sesame Street and The Muppets.

His latest venture with The Blank is a play, with music by Berton Averre of The Knack and Rob Meurer, that tells the tale of a Broadway songwriting duo whose relationship ends bitterly when they collaborate with a “sex-god singer-composer of a cutting edge rock band.” Egos, sexual desires, and ambitions collide.

The piece covers a lot of ground: the meaning and the pitfalls of collaboration, conflicts of style and intentions, and personal relationships. Brian (Andrew Leeds) is forever wounded; he's persuaded by his ex-partner Vanya (Heddy Burress) to connect one more time for old time's sake, only to relive the pain of losing her. Both, it seems, had an affair with the rocker, which wasn’t revealed until now.

They emerge on the other side with a better understanding of themselves and each other. They have a loving relationship but just can't be together because they both need someone or something else. Along the way we get to see a routine they wrote together and then a song about subways, sung by the rocker, which is the best song of the lot.

The performers are all good. Ms. Buress and Mr. Leeds have an easy, professional rapport with the audience. Mr. P. J. Griffiths give a bravura performance as the rocker.

The piece is slight, and not all that rewarding for an audience, since it mainly consists of bickering, while the characters' main ambition, to write a children’s musical, is rather hard to believe. I got the feeling the play was perhaps autobiographical in some way and hence of more interest to the playwright than to an audience. But the good performances and the reliable direction by Daniel Henning make the evening worthwhile. Mr. Saltzman has a good ear for dialogue, some of which is quite amusing.

Setup & Punch will play at The Blank Theatre until June 21.

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About Robert Machray

  • Stagedoor Johnny

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in this review; the author of it didn’t pay enough attention at Setup & Punch to know the details of the story. The characters do not aspire to write a children’s musical, as he states; they wrote a kids’ show together as young collaborators. This major bit of sloppy reporting is telling. The show is engaging and wonderfully acted.

  • TheatreJunkie

    I agree with Stagedoor Johnny. I saw the production last week and think Mr. Machray’s review of Setup & Punch was really inaccurate. Did you even see the production sir? Because it feels like you pieced together this review from some website snippets and second hand sources. I think it was very apparent in the opening monologue that Brian was writing to Vanya to get her permission to produce an old children’s musical they wrote in the past. Additionally I think it was also evident that Jan’s affairs with both characters is one of the reasons their friendship went down the tubes. I really question if you even understood that the play goes between the present and the past? So Mr. Machray I hope you have the courtesy to go see Setup & Punch again and think about rewriting your review so it’s accurate at the very least. To read a real review of Setup & Punch please go here.