By Louis Aquiler and Chris D'Amato; Directed by Paul Mancini
Produced by Synapse Theatre Ensemble
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.28.16
VENUE #3: Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
THIS SHOW IS PART OF FRINGE ENCORES, PLAYING AT SOHO PLAYHOUSE FROM 9.18 to 9.27.
FOR TICKETS AND MORE INFO VISIT sohoplayhouse.com.
by Regina Robbins on 8.22.16
Lizzy Ana Lincoln, Rachel Pearl, Chris D'Amato and Kari Buckley in Dementia Americana. Photo by JT Diaz.
BOTTOM LINE: A new examination of the fatal “love” triangle that scandalized early 20th-century New York.
The events surrounding the 1906 murder of celebrity architect Stanford White by millionaire Harry Thaw have been depicted in books, on screen, and on stage multiple times in the century-plus since the killing rocked New York high society. At this year’s FringeNYC, Synapse Theatre Ensemble revisits this bizarre cultural moment with Dementia Americana, a play that focuses on Thaw’s twisted psychology. Directed by Paul Mancini, the production has all the elements of a gripping drama—show business, sex, death, insanity—but doesn’t add anything new to the already well-known story.
The play begins with the murder, which took place in front of hundreds of witnesses, and then goes back in time to unravel exactly how and why White (Robert Kenneth Marlo) ended up dead at the hand of Thaw (Chris D’Amato). With only a few adjustments for narrative clarity, the script, by D’Amato and Louis Aquiler, is exceedingly faithful to the historical record: Thaw, very rich and mentally unstable, pursued and married teenager Evelyn Nesbit (Kari Buckley), a wildly popular magazine model and chorus girl, only to discover she had been seduced (or raped) years earlier by White, whom Thaw considered his arch-enemy. Into this real-life drama, the writers have inserted Rollo May (David Shaw), a psychologist hired by Thaw’s intimidating mother (Rachel Pearl) to straighten him out. In real life, May wasn’t even born until 1909, but here, he functions as a narrator and moral guide through a world steeped in corruption and self-delusion.
Dementia Americana features strong performances by Buckley and Marlo but suffers somewhat from a lack of focus. It swings back and forth from being a wild ride through the fractured psyche of a spoiled playboy to being a sober drama about a poor but beautiful young woman cruelly used by rich men. There’s obviously a connection between those two themes, but the playwrights haven’t found a tone that encompasses both of them. Like Evelyn herself, Dementia Americana “looks good up there” but lacks deeper substance.
(Dementia Americana plays at VENUE #3: Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 26, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes. Performances are Sun 8/14 at 9:15; Fri 8/19 at 2:15; Sun 8/21 at 4:15; Wed 8/24 at 7; Fri 8/26 at 7:15; and Sun 8/28 at 3:15 (added FringeFAVE performance). There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit synapsete.com. For information about and tickets to this show's Fringe Encores run, visit sohoplayhouse.com.)
Dementia Americana is by Louis Aquiler and Chris D'Amato. Directed by Paul Mancini. Lighting Design is by JT Diaz. Sound Design is by Louis Aquiler and Jeremey Benson. Stage Manager is JT Diaz.
The cast is Kari Buckley, Chris D'Amato, Lizzy Ana Lincoln, Kenneth Robert Marlo, Rachel Pearl, and David Shaw.