By: Sam Affoumado
Produced by Eric Krebs in association with the Fortune Society The Bullpen, a one-man show, written and performed by Joseph Assadourian and directed by Richard Hoehler, continues to wow audiences at the intimate Playroom Theater. Unadorned by the usual production trappings, with only two black cubes for seats, and a few well-executed light and sound cues by production designer Joan Racho-Jansen, the mercurial Mr. Assadourian brilliantly transforms the bare stage into a frighteningly colorful prison bullpen while creating an uproariously funny and grotesque reflection of our dysfunctional, criminal justice system.
Based on Mr. Assadourian’s personal experiences at various penal institutions including the Otisville Correctional Facility, the play unfolds in the bullpen, a holding cell where the accused are held temporarily until they are arraigned, transferred or have the ability to post bond. Here is where the protagonist, Joe, is sent after being arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. In the bullpen, he encounters some of the eighteen motley but sympathetic and provocative characters with whom he will spend his time, all adeptly played by Mr. Assadourian. The prisoners include a druggie, who hides his stash where "the sun don’t shine;" a sensual tranny named Kitty who is both lover and mother earth to the holding-cell habitués; her lover the "Booty Bandit;" an incomprehensible Dominican who speaks his version of English with such lightning speed that it sounds like Spanish; a smart hipster, Roscoe, who knows the law and will freely tell you, first hand, about his knowledge of conspiracy theory, and a wild throng of inept defense lawyers, prosecutors, translators and a snarky, serpentine judge.
There are two trials represented; one imagined and one real. However, as it happens, the mock trial held in the bullpen is no less absurd than the real, subsequent trial held in the courtroom.
Is Joe guilty or innocent of the charges? Is the court a biased entity? Is their really equal justice under the law?
Mr. Assadourian’s tour-de-force performance showcases his uncanny ability to transform, with breakneck speed, into a multitude of characters and his stage presence demands our attention and respect. Despite his rough, edgy demeanor, he is an engaging and likeable personality. He not only presents us with fully realized characters but he gives his inmate-stereotypes a soul. His portrayals of Al Pacino as "Scarface," and the cantankerous courtroom judge are priceless.
Richard Hoehler’s direction, however, is often frenzied and the pacing can be rather intense. Assadourian shift-shapes from role to role with such unrelenting speed that it sometimes makes it difficult for the audience to keep up. A stronger and less frenetic narrative might help the audience better absorb the worthwhile experience. Nevertheless, Mr. Assadourian’s sixty-five minute satire is pure entertainment. The laughter makes this powerful indictment of our penal and judicial systems more palatable and his stellar performance should not be missed.
The Bullpen continues at the Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street,
8th floor, NYC until February 1, 2015
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission
Performances: Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays @7pm, Saturdays at 3pm.
For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.stepinthebullpen.com/
Photography: Bella Muccari