Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Review: Manuscript

In the journalism racket, there's an ironic epithet for an article that's a great read and full of stunning revelations. You call it "a story that's too good to check." The phrase came to mind tonight following a performance of Manuscript, currently in previews at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square.

The show is basically a young writer's revenge fantasy. It's been fleshed out to a full-length play, with a good dose of fresh, funny moments, and some decent acting, but there's something wrong with it all: The plot doesn't really work and isn't ultimately very believable.

The series of twists that heighten the tension each do pack an initial punch, but gradually they get less believable as the play progresses. It is believable that half of a pair of high school lovers would steal the other half's best piece of prose, tweak a few details, and try to pass it off as her own. It's even believable that she might get the stolen work published in a national magazine with the help of her older sister's reputation as a good writer. But after that ... I don't know. The play eventually revolves around the question: Will she steal (another manuscript) again?

Probably a good way to find out if the plot has won you over is whether you can sit back and share in the two male friends' revelry during the denouement without pausing at all to muddle through the particulars of how their revenge will do so much harm. It seems the product of their grand scheme would much more likely be mere embarassment rather than the total destruction of a "career," no matter how brief. (The line "I've been in the publishing world for a year now" certainly got a lot of laughs, although who knows if the playwright intended it so.) One of the characters detracts from the play's own resolution when he talks earlier on about the futility of suing his former girlfriend for stealing his (thunder and) coming-of-age story.

In the end, it all feels more petty and childish than we're made to believe throughout. But that's not to say it wasn't entertaining in its own false little world. I walked away with some degree of satisfaction, which unfortunately I cannot say about The Argument.

***

In other news, B&N Union Square was ridiculously packed tonight as David Sedaris visited on his second round of readings in support of Dress Your Family. The entire top floor of the store was filled with people, and the staff had roped off all open areas between shelves and book tables so that visitors were herded into the pens like fawning cattle.

If you're looking for a seated chance to see Sedaris, you can catch him at an 826 NYC event on July 5 in honor of a volume of short fiction called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Sedaris "edited" the book, which is a fundraiser for the literacy center. Or as he told the audience tonight, he picked the order.

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