BOTTOM LINE: An absurd comic romp about the search for true love in the internet age.
I went to see Pretty & Papi on Oscar night and boy, am I glad I did. This quirky, creative, unpretentious show was, I'm sure, much more enjoyable than Hollywood's parade of commercialism and artificial glamour. Plus the Frigid Festival is a perfect antidote for the increasing gentrification and homogenization of New York City. With its eclectic mix of shows chosen completely at random, Frigid makes even the Fringe look mainstream.
Pretty & Papi is a comic performance piece created and performed by the talented trio of Leah James Abel, Rebecca Houlihan and Olivia Hallie Lehrman, and produced by Awkward (At Best) Productions, whose mission is to "confront the world with reality through a blend of comedy, stupidity, acrobatic skill, and good old fashioned charm." The show delivers energetially on all counts, and though the original reality show premise was abandoned after press materials went out, perhaps it's for the best.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Ms. Pretty Smart (an engaging Ms. Lehrman) and her search for true love, or at least a decent date. Consulting a dating website called Prince Charmony (personified by Ms. Houlihan, amusingly arch in a red dress and frozen smile), Pretty breaks the fourth wall in her quest, "dating" and then rejecting men from the actual theater audience. I'm pretty sure the guys she chose were plants, but I was still terrified she was going to accost me next. Ms. Abel adeptly plays a whole slew of wacky, wired and off-beat characters, most of them male and most of them moronic.
As imaginatively directed by Sayda Trujillo, there are many inspired touches and memorable moments. One of my favorite scenes involves Pretty imagining herself the mother of two little girls who pretend to be dogs in hilariously vulgar ways. "No sniffing butts and no tongues!" the scandalized Pretty screams. I also loved the use of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin" as Pretty's alarm clock which started every scene.
Thank God good, original theater can still be found in the nooks and crannies of downtown New York. And since Ms. Houlihan looks a lot like Oscars co-host Anne Hathaway, I guess I didn't miss anything after all.
(Pretty & Papi plays at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, through March 5th, 2011. Remaining performances are Monday February 28th at 6pm, Friday March 4th at 7:30pm, and Saturday March 5th at 2:30pm. Tickets are $14, $12 for students, seniors, and industry. For tickets and more information go to frigidnewyork.info or call 212.868.4444.)