Entertainment :: Theatre

What Rhymes With America

by Ellen Wernecke
Contributor
Monday Dec 17, 2012
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Da’Vine Randolph and Chris Bauer
Da’Vine Randolph and Chris Bauer  (Source:Kevin Thomas Garcia)

Despite strong acting performances that fill in the holes left by playwright Melissa James Gibson’s script, "What Rhymes With America" is kind of a mess, and a bewildering one at that.

Gibson’s play about a divorced dad and his daughter struggling to reconnect begins on the edge of the familiar and then drops off into nowhere. Hank (Chris Bauer of "True Blood") found his daughter Marlene (Aimee Carrero) confounding enough when they still lived under the same roof; now, she’s a senior in high school with a secret job at a hospital that refuses to tell him how his ex-wife is doing. So far, so good.

Then Hank is moonlighting as an opera supernumerary, a terrific excuse to get him into a number of silly costumes, where he meets aspiring actress Sheryl (Da’vine Joy Randolph), whose show stopping rendition of Lady Macbeth’s first monologue with commentary makes a world more sense than how this guy ended up in this particular temp job.

Actress Sheryl (Da’vine Joy Randolph) gives a showstopping rendition of Lady Macbeth’s first monologue with commentary.

Visiting his daughter at the hospital, he finds another love interest in Lydia (Seana Koford), a late-in-life virgin whose father just died, which would seem like two points of concern for Hank but somehow aren’t.

All of the actors do the best they can with this morass, but Bauer and Randolph in particular, whose casual friendship struck up while smoking behind the theatre reveals surprising depths in both of them. For the most part, though, "What Rhymes With America" is about piling on attributes instead of creating depth, and its relationships suffer as a result.

Director Daniel Aukin moves his actors around as if he’s being rewarded for using every inch of the space, and at some point all four actors are pulled to various corners, most without apparent purpose.

In the middle of the play, Marlene begins to take out a guitar and play a few stanzas of melody here and there, and Carrero’s voice is sweet and charming, but we don’t know why she’s playing, or for whom. Without something to bind these people together besides a sense of struggle, they might as well be strangers.

"What Rhymes With America" runs through Dec. 30 at the Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20th Street. For tickets and info, please visit atlantictheater.org.

Ellen Wernecke’s work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and The Onion A.V. Club, and she comments on books regularly for WEBR’s "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine." A Wisconsin native, she now lives in New York City.

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