by Jake Lipman · August 9, 2014
FringeNYC has a crowd-pleaser on its hands in the comedic new work <50% by Gianmarco Soresi, and if I were a betting woman, I would give this production excellent odds for a bright future for both the piece and its talented team. An abashed rom-com kicking off the festival’s 18th season, <50% did FringeNYC proud, with its full house, lean production values, palpable chemistry between its actors and the FringeNYC-requisite pop culture references.
The two-person play, written, produced and starring Gianmarco Soresi as a version of himself, is a semi-autobiographical re-telling of his relationship, break-up, and further entanglement with his girlfriend, Laura Catalano (also playing a version of herself, as recalled by Soresi). A play within a play, we learn these two met five years earlier as acting students, and broke up when Catalano moved to LA. Their subsequent communications are a mix of conflicting emotions and desires.
To that point, <50% goes back and forth in time, using various theatrical devices to help the audience along with the story. Soresi’s dialogue is effortless and seemingly extemporaneous, and director Max Freeman has a light touch, letting these two actors’ chemistry bubble and pop within the confines of the space. My most favorite series of interactions in the play involved quick, deadpan exchanges between the two actors, who took turns holding up signs and re-enacting the emotions on the signs.
A stand-up comedian with Woody Allen mannerisms unexpected coupled with tall-dark-and-handsome looks, Soresi narrates the framework of the piece with a microphone in hand. Soresi knowingly plays with both sides of his persona, leaping from neurotic The Thinker-like poses into muscular romantic clutches with Catalano. Tellingly, at one point he jokes that he should have written the piece as a solo show to ensure entry into the festival circuit. While said in jest, this love story is nearly 100% Soresi’s version of it, with Catalano brought onstage throughout more as the object of his affection rather than equally-weighted character. As both an actress and in the role of girlfriend, Catalano succeeds with beguiling bite, storming onstage and off with a deft tilt to her head, letting us know she is in on the joke and has plenty to say, if asked.
As festival works must be simple to load in and out of the theater for each performance, scenic and prop designer Jenney Shamash’s shorthand is smartly executed, sketching out Gianmarco and Laura’s love life through merely a bed, table, two chairs and a few props. Stephanie Levin’s carefully casual costume design shows off both actors’ appeal and Nicholas Foster’s sound design expertly mixes pop songs with crackling, clever sound effects to further enhance the world onstage.
The <50% in the title refers to the number of marriages that succeed, and the structure of the play leaves many questions unanswered about the ultimate state of the union of our two lovers. But maybe that’s the point of this see-saw of a love story: <50% engages us in the emotional rise and fall of love, without guaranteeing a happy ending.