'HOLIDAY' A ROAD TRIP WORTH TAKING
January 22, 2001 By DEREK DONOVAN Publication: The Kansas City Star
'Slight Defect, A Desert Holiday' When: Friday, January 19 Where: Unicorn Theatre Audience: 125 (approx.) Additional performances: Through Feb. 4; (816) 531-7529, Ext. 10 Ron Simonian's "Slight Defect, A Desert Holiday," is a rare, if raunchy, delight. It's a stage comedy that balances absurdity with plausibility, nonsense with profundity, and the spiritual with the mundane. "Defect" has the verbal zing of an episode of "Seinfeld," with a well-constructed dramatic arc that enables the four cast members to deliver terrific, memorable performances. Playwright Simonian has found a convincing, cohesive rhythm in this work, which stands as one of the most successful original plays seen at the Unicorn. Unfolding like a twisted retelling of "The Glass Menagerie" by way of David Lynch, "Slight Defect" follows the story of Zack (David Fritts), the mild-mannered salesman of high-powered Bingman 129 toilets. After a disastrous product demo involving a small ham and a heavy dose of suction power, Zack is given one last chance to redeem himself in his boss's eyes. His assignment is to drive across Nevada to sell a truckload of Bingman 129s to the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. On the way, Zack picks up Bucka (Matt Rapport), an unconventional hitchhiker who invites the unfulfilled salesman to liberate himself from his boring, constraining life. When his Las Vegas plans go awry in an outrageously tasteless manner, Zack impulsively lets himself become involved with Leona (Kathleen Warfel), a lonely waitress in a decrepit roadside diner. Zack's uncharacteristic decision leads him down a bizarre path to self revelation and fulfillment, yet it all makes sense in Simonian's off-kilter world. Fritts gives a disciplined comedic performance as the uber-nebbish Zack. Even though he rarely alters his physical appearance from role to role, Fritts is one of Kansas City's most chameleon-like actors. His Zack strikes a delicate balance between uptight and unwound. Soon after picking up Bucka in the desert, Zack begins to feel threatened and orders the hitchhiker out of his car. Fritts covers Zack's panic with a forced assertiveness that is convincing neither to Bucka nor to the audience. It is the first moment where one sees beneath Zack's surface, and Fritts continues to peel the layers throughout the rest of the play. Warfel is given a considerable challenge with the daffy Leona, who is fairly obviously off her rocker from her very first lines. Warfel's Leona is reminiscent of Dickens' Miss Havisham as played by Terri Garr: There is a palpable sadness in her ravings about the perfect high school prom she never had, as Warfel keeps the character within the world of the rest of the play, which is inhabited by considerably more "normal" characters. Also good is Rapport, who imbues the happy-go-lucky Bucka with a kind bemusement. Richard Alan Nichols plays his three different roles expertly. His hilarious nude turn as the Ross Perot-like Chuck is the strangest and most off-color interlude in the play. Chuck's final moment, a combination of sight gag, sound effects and a quick lighting cue, really shouldn't work, but it does. Perfectly. It had the audience rolling in the aisles on opening night, and should only become funnier as the cast and crew perfect their timing. Sadly, it is rare to see a truly funny new play. Simonian's "Slight Defect" has been in various stages of development for eight years now, and it has finally reached its full maturity. The playwright has developed a voice that is his own, and that voice should rightfully triumph over the Terrence McNally-ism that dominates the insular, provincial Off-Broadway mentality. With every production of this quality, the Unicorn proves that regional theater can offer more surprises than the theater world's now-hoary "alternative" institutions. To reach Derek Donovan, call (816) 234-4722 or send e-mail to email@example.com. Kansas City Star, The (MO) Date: January 22, 2001 Page: D4 Copyright 2001 The Kansas City Star Co.