IF YOU GO
What: A drifter meets a desperate addict on the side of the road; original work by Fort Myers playwright Zalman Velvel
When: 7 p.m. Thursday - Saturday, Sept. 20-22; 2 p.m. 2 p.m. matinée on Sunday, Sept. 23
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Cost: $18 per person; $25 per couple
Information: 239-768-1234 or zalmanvelvel.com
Discount: Students and senior citizens half-price on Thursday, Sept. 20
Something Else: Show contains profanity, plus frank talk of sexual abuse, incest, drug abuse and scenes with violence.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
"Will Work 4 Food," running through Sunday in Fort Myers, flings themes into the air like a mad thing. An compelling premise - exploring freedom by way of folks who have nothing - gets lost in an overwrought script that leaves the cast juggling verbal cannonballs that eventually crash and burn.
Playwright, author, comedian and real estate guru Zalman Velvel (eminently charming, he goes by "Uncle Zally," even in the program) wrote "Will Work 4 Food." Wednesday night's performance was the world premiere; Velvel has previously had work produced off-off-Broadway.
In "Will Work 4 Food," drifter Buddy (Todd Fleck) stands at an off-ramp day after day, holding a sign. He's discovered that begging is easier - and more profitable - than working. Troubled Brigette (Gabriela Elvir) tries to usurp his territory. An uneasy arrangement follows - but Brigette brings with her a dark past and a deep need for comfort.
Velvel hits upon some interesting ideas. He returns again and again to the ideal of "freedom" - freedom from emotion, freedom from responsibility, freedom from fear, freedom from want, even freedom from money. Physical needs and desires also figure strongly - usually in the form of sex.
Left alone, these probably would have made a strong show. Yet, perhaps not trusting himself to create a strong enough relationship between his core characters, Velvel introduces a third character - Brigette's sadistic father. Steve Vallo brings appropriate menace to the role, but the character itself feels wedged in.
"Will Work 4 Food" delves awkwardly into sexual abuse, incest and violence. Velvel also wraps his entire show in belabored dialogue that telegraphs a scene's intent, vomits out the verbiage, then chews over the bones lest the audience missed it the first two times.
Bluntly, the script needs more work. The show spirals into a variety of themes and issues without ever adequately serving one. No director can add (desperately needed) pace, movement and life when a minefield of words stops a scene cold.
Director Angie Koch distills what she can of the script to focus on the primary themes.
Both Fleck and Elvir give their characters a dead-eyed, flat-voiced ennui that speaks to the zombie nature of today's society. It serves as a commentary on how invisible their characters are to the rest of the world and as a symbol of how they view the folks who "work" for a living.
I wish Koch had convinced her cast to both speak up and give a little more inflection to their voices during some of the more intense scenes. For instance, Elvir delivers "Shove it up your a**" in the same tone of voice as every other line of dialogue.
The pair do share solid chemistry - one of the show's few saving graces. A second-half scene where Buddy and Brigette argue at their off-ramp features some of the night's best work. Elvir lets her broken character twist with pain and scream with anger, while Fleck allows Buddy's newfound emotional freedom peek through, like a chick pecking its way out of a shell. Fleck also delivers a heart-breaking final monologue, where his character finally reveals his soul.
Velvel has the genesis of a strong play. How many times have you seen folks with similar signs and wondered at their story? I look forward to his next - or future - efforts.