Dysfunction junction

The B-12 Connection

By Katherine Ambrosio
Directed by Sande Shurin
Indie Theatre Productions/Boz and The Bard Productions
Sande Shurin Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

When current events cause some elements of a play to be viewed in a new light, the most basic remedies are rewriting to acknowledge the event, or setting the play prior to the time of the event. The program for Katherine Ambrosio's The B-12 Connection places it specifically in March 2001, and although the play mainly concerns the serio-comic interactions of a particularly weird family, the defining event for Celeste Ryan (Darlene Wilson) is that her husband Joe (Michael Coleman Dee), a fireman, died when he rushed into a burning building to save some kids trapped inside.

While this is a perfectly fine starting off point, it was difficult to shake off resonances of September 11. The play concerns the various reactions and recoveries of Celeste, her son Jimmy (Corey Anker), and her mother Alice (Suzan Perry), as well as her hypochondriacal/romantic relationship with Dr. Silverman (William Michals), who works with her at the hospital. But Celeste keeps re-imagining the circumstances of her husband's death (good lighting design by Phil Widmer and sound design by Michael Farley made it very effective) - she doesn't understand why he ran into the burning building for kids who died anyway. It's a very pertinent question, particularly post-September 11, but she wonders if she is to blame because of a fight they had over her flirting with an old boyfriend.

But while some of The B-12 Connection is effective and some is quite funny, it's not certain that it would have been more successful seven months ago. Jimmy (the son) makes sounds like various animals rather than talk, which was initially fun but became repetitive, in spite of Anker's energy and talent at animal impersonation, and his being older than the character. Alice (the mother) is an overbearing, God-fearing, homophobic anti-Semite, the comic possibilities of which are also soon exhausted in spite of Perry's good high spirits and obvious enjoyment. As the Jewish Dr. Silverman, Michals had the difficult task of making it believable that he would find the desperate and needy Celeste appealing, but he was surprisingly successful, particularly because Wilson managed to find humor and wide-eyed charm in the about-to-go-over-the-edge nature of her character. They were quite a quartet, these folks, enjoyable to watch even as the play veered off in other directions.

One of those directions puts Jimmy, who has run away, into an episode with a drug dealer (a very effective Ray Hamlin); another has dead-husband Joe overseeing Celeste's romance with Dr. Silverman. Easy laughs are had at Alice's obsession with daytime TV, and with Celeste's hypochondria. Little of it goes into interesting places, and most of it is pretty standard stuff. However, the direction (by Sande Shurin) was extremely smooth, with one scene practically gliding into another, giving it a seamless quality.

In spite of the play's taking place in and around New York, it didn't seem particularly local. The set (by Bruce Levy) was the living room where Celeste and her mother did most of their living, and two platforms that served as hospital, park, etc. It was all painted in shades of gray, with roller marks on the walls resembling skyscrapers - the only New York touch (scenic painting by Liz Wunsch). The play's title has to do with a picture of a vitamin B-12 molecule resembling a face - well, the National Enquirer has been known to feature a potato chip that looks like Elvis. Now there's a subject for a play.

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