Review: Film Crew Sets the Dystopian Scene in 'Fringe of Humanity'

David Zayas as a film producer in a scene with Rebecca Nyahay, who plays a would-be starlet. Photo: David Zayas, Jr.

Jan. 13, 2017

Oh, those movie folk, they’re so outrageous, so out of touch, so shallow, so overly emotional, so out of control on every level! These are thoughts that occur during the opening scenes of the new play Fringe of Humanity now playing at Access Theater.

The action takes place behind the scenes on a movie shoot and it delivers a frenzied take on what motivates us and how deeply we are willing to bury our humanity for our own gain. So don’t expect to come away reassured about the state of the human race. If this group of characters is anything to go by, we only have ourselves to blame for the downward trajectory of civil society.

The play opens in a dingy hotel room somewhere in Central or South America. Here we meet Nick Valdez, a washed-up film director struggling to extract any meaning from a violent, crass film script. Nick is portrayed by Paul Calderon, the play’s writer and director. Calderon is a veteran of stage and screen and it shows in his acute observations of the film world.  He co-stars with David Zayas, who plays a film producer with dwindling Hollywood clout and a failing marriage. Zayas embodies the role and brings to it shades of Orson Welles. The producer has chosen the location primarily because it is cheap—and is unconcerned that kidnappings and murder are rife.

Other cast members, newer to the stage, could have benefited from firmer direction, eliciting more emotional range and less frenetic gesturing and movement. An exception is William Rothlein. He does an excellent turn as a veteran cinematographer whose wobbly iPad filming of the “film within the play” is a showstopper. Alex Emanuel and Luke Smith portray the film's lead actors who both miss the point of the script and have delusions of their own fame. Liz Gausmann plays the producer’s bitter wife while Feliz Ramirez and Jessica Damouni are suitably pouty and silly as two would-be starlets.

The laughs come fairly thick and fast in the play’s first half. But once the action turns serious, a dystopian tone descends and the film’s cast and crew quite literally are fighting for their lives. Their craven machinations don’t quite ring true and an extended and overwrought shouting match ensues that clouds the impact of the moral debate. Furthermore, it’s hard to care what happens to any of the characters as one is more self-absorbed than the next. The overriding impression is that the film world is full of fakes with few redeeming qualities. If all the world’s a stage or in this case a sound stage, and these characters represent the fate of the human race, we’d be well advised to take stock and work on our empathy.

“Fringe of Humanity,” written and directed by Paul Calderon, plays through Jan. 28 at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, 4th floor. Tickets are $18 at The play runs 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission.