Review: ‘Muddled’ at The Drexel URBN Annex in Philadelphia

Following his 2013 hit No Reservations, best-selling author, humorist, and playwright Josh Piven brings a new work to the Philadelphia stage with the world premiere of Muddled, an original satire on the generation gap, throwback bars and digital devices, and being stuck in the carefree years of your youth, though time, along with the rest of the world, has moved on. To set the stage, a witty sign on the theater door requests that the audience “silence cell phones, pagers, and grandfather clocks.”

 Josh Piven, Bob Heath, C Campbell, and ASchoonover, Photo by Kory Aversa .
Bob Heath, Carlo Campbell, and Amanda Schoonover. Photo by Kory Aversa.

Determined to forsake all social media after being fired from his job at Facebook for twerking-while-intoxicated at the founder’s wedding, Andy (Trevor Fayle) opens a 1920s-style cocktail lounge in Brooklyn with a strict no cell-phone policy. His volatile mother Tina (Amanda Schoonover), on probation for assault, and his seemingly clueless girlfriend Chrissy (Hannah Gold), an aspiring actress and artist, work as waitresses in the upscale bar, with freshly muddled $17 drinks, few patrons, and growing debt.

To the rescue comes the new owner of the building, a wealthy real-estate developer, who also happens to be Andy’s long-lost dad Tricky Nicky Slick (Bob Heath)–the former drummer of an ‘80s head-banger band, who walked out on the pregnant Tina while on the road in Akron in 1987 (as portrayed in the opening vignette). With the aid of his old bandmates Paul (Eric Cover) and Pete (Dave Fiebert), Nick ‘updates’ the failing business to ‘80s style, and, after one wild grand-opening night, all of the characters’ secrets are revealed.

Trevor Fayle and Eric Cover. Photo by Kory Aversa.
Trevor Fayle and Eric Cover. Photo by Kory Aversa.

Directed by William Steinberger, the often slow-paced and deliberate delivery dampens some of the free-flying insults, humor, and manifold pop-culture references to the ‘80s that leave the characters of a certain age walking down “memory lane” and the younger ones completely muddled. Over-the-top caricatures of a digital-junkie hipster (Richard Chan) and over-aged rock-band burnouts (Cover and Fiebert), recalling the 1984 cult film This Is Spinal Tap, contrast with the more controlled performances of Nick’s all-about-business bodyguard Rick Springfield (Carlo Campbell) and the main protagonists (Fayle, Schoonover, and Heath), trying to make it in the new millennium.

Laughably atrocious wigs and colorful outdated costumes by Jamie Grace-Duff visually remind us, as Tina says, “the best thing to come out of the ‘80s was the ‘90s.” Lighting by Andrew Cowles and an original song, “Little Miss Muffet,” by Piven (lyrics) and Marc LeMay (music and sound design), parody the decade of Miami Vice and Def Leppard. Sara Outing’s set easily shifts from an Akron hotel room of 1987, to the Brooklyn bar and its two distinct past-period configurations in 2016.

In the end, Nick notes that “you can’t relive the past.” And if you were these characters, you shouldn’t want to!

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

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Muddled plays through June 26, 2016, at the Drexel URBN Annex – 3401 Filbert Street Philadelphia. For tickets, purchase online.

LINK:
Here is an audio link to Josh Piven’s description of the play.