By Donna Herman
By his own admission in the Playwright’s Note in the program, Jeff Stolzer got his inspiration for his play “Storage Locker,” from the reality TV show “Storage Wars.” Directed by Julian Mesri and presented by Iati Theater, the production resembles nothing so much as a train wreck. You are horrified watching it, glad you’re not involved, but you can’t walk away because the play is 70 minutes without an intermission.
Stolzer claims that he “didn’t want the play to be about reality TV, which has already been parodied and satirized ad nauseum,” but the premise of the play is as close a rip-off as the title and adds no deep insight into the American condition. We are introduced to the purchasers, a married couple in this case, Woman (Nicole Betancourt) and Man (Bryn Packard) who have bought a storage locker at an auction sight unseen. Although we don’t see the auction process in the play as on the TV show, we learn as they come on stage bickering, that while Woman was in the bathroom, Man bid $1,500 after agreeing on a maximum of $800, because he had a “feeling.” Needless to say, the couple continue to argue throughout the proceedings. He’s a dreamer, sure there’s a pot of gold in every locker and she’s tired of throwing away their hard earned cash. Like the three act structure of the TV show he refers to, after buying the locker, they have to discover what the contents are, and then their value.
After declining to parody reality TV, Stolzer has declared further in his Note that he “saw an opportunity to go deeper, to explore American materialism and our ‘get rich quick’ mentality, and to challenge our very notions of reality and truth.” What he actually does is switch the format to the classic TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” In comes the Monty Hall figure of the Old Man (David Crommett) to offer them a deal before they know what they have. He couldn’t make the auction because of an attack of arthritis, but he wants it. Why? He’s got a system based on numerology that’s 80% effective that tells him this locker is the real deal. That seems plausible, right?
“Take the money and run!” says the Woman. “No, if he wants it too, there’s something there, I’m right!” says the husband. The deal making goes back and forth, both sides lying and cheating and upping the ante. Can anybody hear the train whistle blowing? If you can’t it’s because you’re deaf. No spoiler alert, the Old Man has no money, the storage locker used to be his, the Man is a greedy idiot, the Woman, well, the Woman is a very, very poorly written one-dimensional character, and the only thing in the mystery trunk is going to be the dead body of the Old Man’s supposedly sainted wife, who he murdered. The “surprise” twist at the very end that comes out of nowhere and has nowhere to go? That belongs more to an M. Night Shyamalan/Disney movie mash-up, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I see dead people.”
Bafflingly, the director Julian Mesri, has decided that the fix for what ails “Storage Locker” is to turn it into an actual reality TV show. Instead of a blank stage with only the padlocked door to a storage locker on it, as written in the script, there is also a large TV monitor facing the audience on the right side of the stage. Directly to the left of the monitor is a TV camera on a tripod facing the left that records all the action on the left side of the stage in front of the locker door and projects it onto the monitor. When the Man and Woman enter, they position themselves in front of the camera, facing each other, the Woman facing the audience, the Man facing the Woman with his back to the audience. Since he is about a foot taller than the actress playing the Woman, he crouches down with his hands on his knees so that he’s in the same camera frame on the monitor. Occasionally, they both turn to the camera, or they take a step back for a longer shot and he can stand up straight. Sometimes one or the other will speak directly to the camera while the other one is looking out at the audience. OK, we get it. They know they’re being filmed. They’re filming their own reality show? They’re filming it for posterity? Who knows. When the Old Man arrives, understands the filming thing too since he’s been sitting in an armchair in front of the TV set. Which, by the way, is nowhere in the script. The actors are awkwardly blocked on stage in order to make pretty screen pictures, and move their hands and arms in weird stylized gestures, seeming stiff and wooden. But to what end? And to what end did Mesri turn the production into a TV show? Well, don’t look to the Director’s Note to clear up his ideas about the production. They are so inarticulate I would have to advise him to either get a better quality drug or, in the immortal words of Nancy Reagan “just say no.”
Storage Locker written by Jeff Stolzer, directed by Julián Mesri
WITH Nicole Betancourt (Woman), David Crommett (Old Man), Bryn Packard (Man)
Scenic design by Warren Stiles; lighting design by Miguel Valderrama; costume design by Leni Méndez; video production by Fabian Zarta; original score by Julián Mesri; photographer, Gustavo Mirabile; marketing & graphic design by WowMom; press representative, Jonathan Slaff & Assoc.; technical director, Pope Jackson, house manager, Eduardo Campuzano; house crew, Laura Riveros; head electrician, Alejandra González; assistant electrician, Anthony Cruz, Venue General Management, Form Theatricals, Anthony Francavilla & Zachary Laks. IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street, NYC through October 30th, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets: 212-505-6757 or www.iatitheater.org