If professional wrestling is “the only innovative form of modern dance we have left,” as one of the characters says in the comedy “Manuscript” that’s now playing at Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre, then the deep, complex plot choreographed by playwright Paul Grellong runs a close second.
Because by simply replacing the big, buff, larger-than-life WWE stars with three, 20-something Ivy League poseurs, what Grellong delivers is a powerful beating upon a slick, manipulative villain by a unified team of so-called good guys – all in the name of vengeance. And just like a night with the WWE, Grellong’s carefully-planned bout is jam-packed with twists, turns and plenty of deception.
That sure sounds like a night at “Smackdown” to me!
In “Manuscript,” the center ring is the upstairs bedroom of David Lewis, who is home from Harvard on winter break. A fiction writer-wannabe, David is anxious to meet the girlfriend of his longtime best friend Chris Ferrando, the published novelist Elizabeth Hawkins. (Both attend Yale.) But their evening is interrupted by the receipt of an unpublished and incomplete manuscript written by a well-known and very recently-deceased author. (The body isn’t even cold yet.) So now the question becomes: What do they do with it?
To reveal much more would ruin the fun. But since conflict is the essence of good theater, you can probably GUESS where the plot is heading – but you’d likely be wrong.
And that’s where Grellong excels: His plot DOES keep you guessing. However, it’s also improbable – and at its conclusion, you’re not quite sure if it’s an indictment of the Ivy League entitlement mentality, today’s self-centered young people or the lack of ethics at all levels of society. Plus, his characters aren’t very likable – but that might be just a generational thing. (Then there’s this: Are the first few minutes of the play somewhat of a red-herring, with the dialogue telling us only what the playwright WANTS us to believe instead of what’s ‘true’? Or is Grellong simply a crafty playwright who leaves out certain details to make it LOOK that way by play’s end?)
Direction by Aaron T. Moore is brisk and well-executed, with the show’s climax especially well-paced and acted. And he makes excellent use of the deep performance space provided by set designer Brian Dambacher.
However, it’s the actors who have the most difficult job, since it’s not easy to keep an audience interested in characters who seem to be morally and ethically bankrupt. Yet all three actors succeed in their roles.
Patrick O’Connor Cronin (David) and Brian Thibault (Chris) are thoroughly convincing as best friends since first grade. Cronin is especially comfortable and fun to watch as the easy-going Harvard man, but Jewish he’s not – especially one raised in Brooklyn Heights. Thibault, thankfully, gives Chris a far less arrogant personality than what the playwright conceived.
But it’s Aphrodite Nikolovski who has the most challenging role, that of the manipulative, back-stabbing and always-calculating Elizabeth. The character is able to quickly change directions and sling horsepucky in whatever direction it’s needed, and Nikolovski – who could wear a Hefty bag and make it look sexy – slickly sells each move quite well.
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E. Cady St., Northville. Thu.-Sun., through May 24. Tickets: $18-$35. For information: 248-347-0003 or http://www.tippingpointtheatre.org