'Outside the Norm' misses the mark

August 09, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

How many times have you wanted to tell your boss exactl what you think of him? Or, to take it one step further and physicalize your feelings?

An elaborate revenge fantasy is the most satisfying scene in Gregory Jenkins' "Outside the Norm," an otherwise unexceptional comedy of the feel-good variety, currently at the Spotlighters as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival.

In a vivid daydream, an out-of-work advertising copywriter named Norm (Barry Price) conjures up the duplicitous boss who forced him to resign. Recalling the false promises of security that were made when he was hired, Norm nearly strangles the SOB.

But alas, this is mere fantasy. The boss (Branch Warfield) is visible only to the audience and to Norm; Norm's beer-guzzling brother (Nick Psaltos) is in the same room, but all he can see is Norm flailing at thin air.

Nonetheless, "Outside the Norm" suggests that even imaginary revenge can have its rewards. After acting out his anger, Norm is a new man. He gets out of the doldrums -- and out of his bathrobe -- and puts on a coat and tie and an upbeat attitude, determined to do something more than feel sorry for himself.

In other words, this isn't so much a comedy as it is an uplifting, have-faith-in-yourself, pop-psychology testimonial. On opening night, the funniest line was an inadvertent reference to Pee-wee Herman.

Textually, one problem is that before his transformation, Norm never seems desperate enough to warrant serious concern. He's only been out of work a few weeks. And, although his living quarters are less than luxurious and his wife (Maria Diaz) has taken a job as a waitress, the only reason he's missed any meals is because he doesn't feel like eating.

In addition, despite repeated comments by the other characters about how distressed he is, Mr. Price seems more amused by his character's antics than absorbed by them. The script requires him to toy nervously with a Slinky, but he never approaches the sense of obsession of, say, Lt. Cmdr. Queeg fingering ball bearings in "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial."

Director Patsy Black has elicited some colorful portrayals in supporting roles, particularly that of Marilyn Kemper as Norm's busybody landlady and Mr. Psaltos as his brother, both making their Baltimore stage debuts.

A comedy can be funny and uplifting at the same time, but "Outside the Norm" is watered down where it should be wacky and wise. At the risk of a contradiction in terms, this is uninspired inspirational comedy.

'Outside the Norm'

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., matinees Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Through Aug. 25.

Where: Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St.

Tickets: $7

Call: 752-1225.


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