Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I saw HELLCAB, an off-off Broadway show Saturday and I really liked it. This is highly unusual. Normally about ten minutes into an off-off Broadway show I want to rip my own head off.

The lousiness of much off-off Broadway can be attributed to Sturgeon's law, which says that 90% of everything is crap.

But some of it - the head-ripping bits - are due to the desperate desire on the part of hipster theatre people to demonstrate that they are free of "political correctness." This leads to any number of stupidities, excessive vulgarities and wanton cruelties, because while the anti-PC crowd knows better than to come out and be explicitly racist or sexist, they have to be obnoxious to show that they aren't being pussywhipped by politeness or empathy or sensitivity.

Rising Sun Performance Company's HELLCAB was refreshing because the lead character, a taxi driver in Chicago, is a liberal who cringes when a black guy says that a recent immigrant is not a real American, and again when a businessman calls a passing woman a "nigger."

The author, Will Kern, doesn't feel the need to be funny as a method of declaring his freedom from political correctness, so his scenarios are genuinely amusing.

HELLCAB has some definite flaws though - primarily the ending, which seems overly-sentimental and tacked-on. But most of the time I was totally engaged.

The premise of the play is simple - a day in the life of a cab driver. Of course it isn't a typical boring workday. The cab driver picks up sex fiends, druggies, a pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth, a wacked-out puppet man, New York sports fans and a rape victim.

I think there's a synergy at work in the show, between director, writer and actors. Why else would one of the play's funniest lines be "I have to have my pants"?

The play's primary focus is the reactions of the compassionate cab driver, played by Nic Mevoli, to being interrogated, insulted, grossed out, groped and dragged into passenger disputes.

Mevoli is a great find. The show's director, Akia, told me after the show that she had Mevoli in mind when deciding to redo the play - Rising Sun did another version a few years earlier. That was a good call. Not many off-off Broadway actors are as engaging as Mevoli. He begins with a downtrodden everyman vibe in his performance, and as the evening wears on, he morphs into a young Harrison Ford, extremely charismatic and able to communicate worlds of emotion through a raised eyebrow or a sidelong glance.

I went to the play at the request of Reagan Wilson, a HELLCAB cast member who is also an actor member of my group NYCPlaywrights. Reagan was great in three distinctly different roles - a lawyer, the pregnant woman, and a party girl on the way to meet her boyfriend. The other actors I saw were also great.

I hate so many off-off Broadway plays I was starting to think there was something wrong with me. This show made me realize there are good shows, it isn't just me, and there is hope for off-off Broadway after all.

For more information about HELLCAB, which will run until the end of January, see Rising Sun's web site at http://www.risingsunnyc.com/.