Some strong performances and deliciously catty one-liners ensure The Crumple Zone is an enjoyable and inoffensive 75-minutes, but the flimsiness of the writing becomes a bit of a barrier to really feeling able to rave about LAMBCO’s production.
Buddy Thomas’s LGBT comedy The Crumple Zone transports audiences to the Staten Island flatshare of three indigent actors – who’ve become that way, one might assume, due to overwhelming preoccupations with getting in each other’s pants. Amidst lopsided Xmas trees and bargain booze, we watch protagonist Terry (a sparky Lucas Livesey) survey, bemoan and dissipate a love triangle that – to his disappointment – he’s not a part of.
Thomas affords the cynical Terry all of the wittiest, and cattiest, one-liners – and these become all the more enjoyable as soon as you tune into them like you would jokes on Friends, rather than veristic dialogue that someone’s allegedly ‘coming up with’ in the moment. There’s no denying he’s got the best lines and by far the most depth written into his character, but Livesey’s performance is still strong – managing to tinge an appealingly cheeky glint in his eye with a relatable jadedness. For happily ever afters, monogamy and the fickleness of the ‘gay male mindset’, perhaps.
The Crumple Zone‘s non-naturalistic dialogue (one assumes unintentionally) fast became a little irritating, though. It’s initially tricky to work out if it’s the writing or acting at fault (I eventually put it down to a bit of both), but – 10 minutes in – you can’t quite ignore the lack of dramatic ‘flow’. The text itself is fairly flimsy – scenes are often too unfocused to sustain momentum, and Thomas’s concluding scene doesn’t quite give you the confidence (ironically, given that the line ‘I don’t think even you know where you’re going with this’ features) that the play does either. There’s also just too many examples of lines littered through the text – ‘Did your Mama not tell you not to nag Santa Claus?’ for instance – which seem both exceptionally clunky and like nothing people ‘actually say’. Particularly in the spur of the moment.
The actors in LAMBCO’s production seem to have been drilled to deliver their lines a little too quick, in my opinion, which doesn’t help proceedings either. Real people require those split-seconds – before they open their mouths – to formulate what they’re about to say and to digest or be amused or appropriately react to what’s just come before. I’m just not quite sure I saw those split-second character decisions at the King’s Head Theatre here – The Crumple Zone often feels like we’re listening to a lines run rather than an interpretation of them and your investment as an audience member suffers as a result.
Natasha Edwards’ Sam gives the best performance of the night for me – the only one who I found (ironically perhaps, being a gay guy) I could really relate to, or at least believe her pain and confusion. The gender politics of the material leaves a little to be desired though. A male character’s ‘Who cares what you do?’ remark to Sam, at one moment, perhaps echoes the perspective of the play. We seemingly watch a story, albeit a ‘silly’ comical one, where women are presented to not just be ‘the victim’ but also ones of the particularly pathetic kind. Sam’s the last one to cotton onto the truth, and having seen things she hasn’t, the audience are sort of led by the playwright into laughing at her for being a bit thick, frankly, and not seeing it coming herself. Roger’s ‘My Wife’ punchline, towards the very end of the play, also positions women very much as the voiceless and oblivious afterthought – which is perhaps a strange message for liberal theatre in 2018.
The other performances here are a little mixed; it seems like a basic thing to say, but some accents could do with some tightening to avoid taking you out of the action further. It’s the ambiguity of The Crumple Zone‘s underlying message though (despite its attempt at one – Sam being told she needs to ‘get out of the car’ whilst she still has the chance doesn’t seem to hold true when it appears she was pretty violently pushed from it anyway 10 minutes before…), which you leave puzzling over. There’s nothing wrong with a play littered with catty one-liners that make you laugh, but surely it’s all got to amount to something a little more substantial?