Last night I attended a preview performance of Mangella, a play by Ken Ferrigni and directed by Joe Jung. In a nutshell, the play is a dark comedy for nerds, by nerds. I went into it not really knowing what to expect. Even based on the promo postcard’s description:
Ned is a low-rent hacker who uses his trusty computer, Gabriella, to shake down Asian websites with coordinated network attacks. He is hell-bent on restoring the memory of his stroke-ridden father who believes himself to be a fictional 1940’s black blues musician Mangella St. James. However, when Lily, a beautiful prostitute, arrives at Ned’s door battling an unseen tormentor, Ned is sucked into a life-and-death struggle to save his father, his desktop PC, and himself. Who will make it to tomorrow?
I don’t even know what to make of that description, even after seeing the show. The production was powerfully and brilliantly executed with wonderful use of multimedia even if I felt the script was (very briefly at times) lacking. The dialogue was smart, witty, ridiculous, and moving all at the appropriate (and inappropriate) times. There were some unfortunate coincidences in the script mentioning Apple products and pancreatic cancer with the very recent death of Steve Jobs, which sort of struck a nerve with me, but that was simply unfortunate timing with current events. While the dialogue was impressive, the plot dragged a little but also left lots of unanswered questions that it put forth. While you want to leave a good piece of theatre pondering a little, I don’t what to have to ask myself too many questions at the end of the night.
The desktop PC, Gabriella (portrayed by a very energetic and funny Ali Perlwitz) was definitely my favorite character. I love the fantastical anthropomorphizing characters in plays (such as Sylvia). I never knew a piece of technology could be so well-rounded. It’s going to make me look at my iPod and laptop differently now.
The overall story is moved forward by an unseen force that the audience does not learn about until late in the 2nd act, and even then, we still left the show asking, “What exactly happened, now?” Overall, the show was enjoyable, funny, and bizarre. It was an excellent piece of off-off-Broadway; just absurd enough to be what people have come to expect from O-O-B productions, but not so far “out there” that you start your story with, “Well, I went to my friend’s off-off-Broadway show last night…*sigh*…it was…well…” as so many of us in the NYC theatre scene know all too well. We’ve all uttered that phrase, and we’ve all probably been that friend the phrase refers to.
The show also stars Anthony Manna as Ned, Bob Austin McDonald as Mangella St. James, and Hannah Wilson as Lily. All are very talented actors with delightful chemistry. Mangella runs October 6-23 at The Drilling Company theatre 236 W 78th St @ Broadway. Recommended for theatre nerds, especially those who appreciate darker humor.
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