In Jonathan Yukich’s play American Midget, now playing in the New York Fringe, a mysterious man called Mr. Much (Aaron Bartz) gets inside the heads of the other characters, especially Albert (Jared Van Heel), who he keeps undermining with the word “midget”, against logical evidence, since Albert is quite tall. Mr. Much is a personification of the little voice inside your head who tells you that you’ll never make it and that you aren’t good enough. Unfortunately for the characters of this play, Mr. Much is also the theatrical ringmaster of the presented events, in collusion with a Voice (John Bergdahl) who helps to read the stage directions, and neither is above breaking the fourth wall in order to break you.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but in its short hour-long running time, it follows Albert through a laughingly Job-like life where he is stymied by everything and everyone; parents, girls at school, his teachers, his shrink. Albert is continually manipulated by Mr. Much to keep him downtrodden and not finding his dreams. The main question of the play is, of course, if Albert will break out of Mr. Much’s nefarious clutches, or allow himself to stay smothered.
Yukich’s script is darkly comic, and very enjoyable (though I found the ending slightly disappointing). The play is very well directed by Noah Tuleja, who keeps everything presentational and fun. The cast is great. Van Heel is a perfect Everyman as Albert, just dying to burst out of his bespectacled schlubby shell. Rachel Simpson plays a variety of streetwise young women. Nicol Cole has tons of fun playing Albert’s mother and an oversexed college painting teacher. Doug Paulson is great as several characters, including Albert’s shrink, Dr. Kalamazoo. Maria Giarrizzo is a sweet and affecting presence as Christine, possibly the love of Albert’s life. But my highest praise (appropriately) goes to Aaron Bartz: his command of the stage, intense focus, and physical work truly make Mr. Much frightening and perceptibly powerful.
220 East 4th Street (between A & B)
Remaining performances: Aug. 23 @ 9:45pm, Aug. 24 @ 4:30pm
Tickets available at www.FringeNYC.org
Photo: Aaron Bartz as Mr. Much and Jared Van Heel as Albert