First Nighter: Tracey Scott Wilson's 'Buzzer' Fizzles; 'Clinton the Musical' Frazzles

04/09/2015 11:47 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015

As Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer gets underway at the Public, Jackson (Grantham Coleman) introduces himself to the audience as a thriving young wrong-side-of-the-tracks lawyer whose credits include Exeter, Harvard and Harvard Law School. Shortly after that, he's in the process of convincing girlfriend Suzy (Tessa Ferrer) that it's time for them to live together in an apartment he's bought in his now gentrified old neighborhood.

That Suzy, who also introduces herself in a monologue, goes along with Jackson's reasoning is sufficiently believable. Credulity is stretched to the breaking point and beyond it, however, when Don (Michael Stahl-David), a longtime friend of Jackson and a recovering substance abuser, makes himself known to the audience. Don needs somewhere to stay, and Jackson prevails on Suzy to allow his pal squatter's rights while he keeps off the sauce and looks for a place. He assures her that Don, who's been in and out of rehab eight times, has finally cleaned up his act. (It turns out that Don has only been in and out of rehab seven times. He lied to them about one of the times he claimed he went.)

Reluctantly, Suzy acquiesces. Yes, theater skeptics, it's hard to believe anyone would agree, but Suzy does, because if she doesn't, there's no play. Even so, there's not much of a play. Put another way, what play there is is annoyingly predictable. Wilson makes it obvious from Don's entrance that sooner or later--but not much later that 90 minutes later--his presence will cause strife and very likely irreparable harm.

The only suspense as the three of them wrangle with each other and Suzy wrangles with a couple of street toughs who harass her outside the home--where she never feels fully at home--are the details by which complications accrue. None of those details will be detailed here, except to say one of the most flagrant developments is likely the one that every sentient patron will know is bound to arrive from the moment Don darkens the doorstep.

Anne Kaufman directs solidly, and Coleman, Ferrer and Stahl-David hold up their end of the compromised bargain with sturdy performances that flesh out real characters but never alleviate the basic problem: Patrons are far ahead of them within minutes of the start and remain there for the rest of the work.

What's really arresting about Buzzer--sound designer Bray Poor supplies many front door buzzes--is Laura Jellinek's set. Two thirds of the stage is sparsely furnished. Prominent are a sleek divan, a couple of end tables and a lamp. It's at stage right where Jellinek constructs her inspiration. A series of rooms cut off about four feet from the floor stand in shocking white ranks to represent the rest of the gentrified space. Now that's a remarkable metaphor for a residence that's remains stubbornly incomplete. Kudos to Jellinek, it not to Wilson.


Reviewers are not expected to be kind but to be fair. Every once in a while, though, a reviewer feels the need to be kind. Clinton The Musical (note no colon) has generated that feeling in me. So just let me be kind and say that the tuner at New World Stages with book by Michael Hodge and Paul Hodge and songs by the latter is perfectly awful.

The topic is Bill Clinton's Presidency with, as might be expected, an emphasis on the Monica Lewinsky affair. A curious reader might want to know why anyone would think it timely to satirize an administration that ended 15 years ago and was well covered when it was topical. Possibly the Hodges think they've contributed something to a depiction of the President as two characters--WJ Clinton (Tom Galantich) and Billy Clinton (Duke Lafoon)--who stand, respectively, for the good William Jefferson Clinton and the philandering William Jefferson Clinton. The creators may have fooled themselves into thinking they've updated the subject matter by making Hilary Rodham Clinton (Kerry Butler, the astounding belter) the focal figure.

Whatever they were thinking when they jerry-rigged this entertainment(?), they were a long distance from anything genuine. Running down a long list of their misguided notions--among them, a squealing Newt Gingrich (John Treacy Egan), a fey Kenneth Starr (Kevin Zak), a lumbering Eleanor Roosevelt (Judy Gold)--is a waste of your time and mine.

The only other comment I'll make about the 95-minute time-waster is that it includes perhaps an all-time show-tune low point. Listed is the program as "Monica's Song" and delivered by Veronica J. Kuehn, the lyric contains many times over the declaration "I'm f***ing the f***ing President." I include asterisks not because I'm being prudish but because I don't want to honor anything quite so base by naming it exactly.

For the record: Dan Knechtges directed and choreographed by keeping things moving rapidly. (Was he hoping that pacing would mask the total absence of acceptable script?) David Woolard designed the costumes, Paul Miller the lighting and Peter Fitzgerald the sound. The always remarkable Beowulf Boritt designed the set, and once again (see above review) provided the one aspect truly worth full, or any, attention.