Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE BULLPEN (The Playroom Theater)

by Paul Birchall on June 28, 2014

in Theater-New York

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PRO AND (EX-)CON

In telling his true-life tale about being convicted of attempted murder and released following a hefty prison term, Joe Assadourian is proof that you can be a crook and still be a tremendously talented actor.  And, really, I don’t suppose anyone should be surprised at this idea.  Acting is THE BULLPEN with Joseph Assadourian, Off-Broadwaymerely the art of foolery raised to the level of beauty; crookery is somehow similar, though with baser motives.

Assadourian’s ’s self-written solo show is a perfect example of a comic piece that allows one to see aspects of life which your typical audience member will hopefully never have to face outside the theater.  On the other hand, Assadourian’s dexterously twisty performance as the 18 characters in The Bullpen is so cunning and appealing that you might care to commit a crime of your own so that you too can create a delightfully social experience like this one.

THE BULLPEN with Joseph Assadourian, Off-Broadway.After being arrested on the charge of shooting a pal in his rear end during an argument, Assadourian is dragged off to jail.  While awaiting his bail hearing, he’s tossed into a bullpen containing a rogue’s gallery of crooks and cretins, all of whom Assadourian assays with incredible energy and variety.

The prisoners include a bug-eyed drug dealer, who grosses everyone out when he pulls his marijuana stash out of his anus, and a sultry tranny prostitute who acts as a vaguely disturbing den mother to the other inmates. They skeptically hear Assadourian’s protests of innocence, and decide to hold their own Bullpen trial to determine whether he has a chance in Hell in front of the real judge.  In this mooks’ moot court, the cross-dressing hooker takes on the role of Marcia Clark as the prosecutor, while Assadourian is defended by a weaselly con artist who has spent so much time in jail he knows the legal system better than any law firm partner.  As it turns out, the surprising results have unexpected ramifications for Assadourian’s real life case.

THE BULLPEN with Joseph Assadourian, now playing Off-Broadway.The mood of director Richard Hoehler’s often frenetic staging is playful and a little crazed, but Assadourian is a beguiling performer.  The production values are almost non-existent, as befits the subject matter.  It’s a black box stage, a couple of boxes, and Assadourian, who flips the switches on his multitudinous personalities with ease and precision:  One moment he’s a downright creepy Judge, his tongue waggling around like a lizard, the next he’s a horny homeless dude, grabbing his crotch as he ogles the hooker.

The speed with which Assadourian shifts from role to role sometimes makes it a little tough to keep track of who’s who; pacing the work better might help.  However, the show’s gritty yet personable authenticity is unusually likable, and Assadourian, with his high spirits and intimately friendly style, is charismatic and engaging–the downright nicest crook you’ll ever hope to meet.  And yet he also has the indefinable no-bullshit edge of someone who knows the world he’s describing.  It’s a quality that’s simultaneously attractive and disturbing, like the boyfriend you know you ain’t bringing home to mama.

photos by Bella Muccari

The Bullpen
Eric Krebs in association with the Fortune Society
The Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3 through June, 2014
new summer schedule begins July 7, 2014
Mon-Wed at 7; Sat at 3
open-ended run
for tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.StepInTheBullpen.com

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