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Snakebit
by JONATHAN ABARBANEL
2003-02-12

This article shared 1563 times since Wed Feb 12, 2003
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Playwright: David Marshall Grant

At: Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway

Phone: (773) 549-1815; $15-$18

Runs through: March 9

When his closeted lover leaves him, Michael—a late-30s gay, Los Angeles social worker—no longer can afford his cozy bungalow near the beach. As he packs to move, his best friends from New York show up for a few days. Jonathan Driver is a successful, overweeningly self-absorbed actor on the brink of stardom. His wife, Jenifer, is a failed actress and caterer. Michael and Jenifer had an affair in 1993, shortly before Jenifer married Jonathan, and it comes out in the wash of this curious hybrid of comedy, melodrama and improbability by David Marshall Grant.

While quite believably drawn, Michael, Jonathan and Jenifer are neither very interesting nor easy to like. Michael, an underwhelming underachiever, is a bit of a whiner. Jonathan is pathologically inconsiderate. Jenifer—the least complete of the trio—is excessively needy and close to a breakdown. Part of the pressure on her is late-blooming HIV panic, owing to her unprotected sex with Michael 10 years earlier. Neither ever has been tested. Although crucial to character and plot, this device is an attitudinal dinosaur that makes Snakebit dated.

Grant also throws in a total improbability: the inexplicable and dramatically purposeless appearance of Michael's ex-lover's new boyfriend; a pretty, star-struck younger man who comes on to Michael first, then reveals to Jonathan—without motivation or effect—that he's HIV+, then simply disappears. Huh? Thus, Snakebit moves from true-to-life realism, to tense drama, to forced and false situations, and back again. At play's end, issues are suspended rather than resolved, especially between Jonathan and Jenifer.

The Profiles production, directed by Sarah Franklin, follows the curves of the play for better and worse. Franklin keeps the pace brisk, as she must in a performance without intermission, running nearly two hours. Joe Jahraus designed the bright, compact set and plays Michael as kindly, listless and shapeless. Michael may be weak, but he's not without personality and some sparkle. At times, Jahraus sounds like an actor reciting lines, rather than inhabiting his character. Sara Maddox is very effective as Jenifer, nicely wound-up and tense without overplaying Jen's physical ticks.

However, it's Darrel W. Cox who energizes things as Jonathan. It's not only that it's the showiest role (it is), but that Cox maintains the sharpest attack throughout, lightening-fast on cues, and with a motormouth, throw-away delivery that's true in every beat. Jeremy Trager is a trim, dark, wide-eyed valley boy as the ex's new squeeze. He does honest work, given the near-impossibility of the role.

For its New York premiere, Snakebit received best play award nominations, which proves how NYC critics let acting overwhelm discernment. For Snakebit must be carried by actors, as this production demonstrates in its brightest moments.


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