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Fringe Festival 2008

Stand-Up Showdown

Triple threat performer Manny Liyes excels as an actor in "Choke City," but the plotting of his play sows some confusion.

Pictured: Manny Liyes with Elda Luisi, who plays Billy Lopes' mother.

“Choke City,” seen August 23 in the 12th annual Fringe Festival in New York, is, like “The Sound of One Hanna Clapping,” (see review) a showcase for a single performer, but in this case with a cast of collaborators, at least in the acting department.

Manny Liyes, the lead actor, is also the writer and director of the show -- in the role of stand-up comic Billy Lopes, who gets mixed up in a murky criminal enterprise (it’s not quite clear what ‘the package’ is that he agrees to deal with for a quick buck) that somehow pushes him over the brink with his frustrations to commit suicide on stage. Liyes actually has good material in the stand-up bits he performs as part of “Choke City,” so it’s a little puzzling why the other characters speak of his character as a loser who wasn’t going to make it.

This is in fact symptomatic of some other problems with the plotting and writing of the story of “Choke City.” There are too many inconsistencies and actions by other characters that don’t make sense. For instance, John Boy Casey, a fellow comic of Lopes, played by Will Manning, alternates between seeming really knowledgeable about what was going on with the criminal acts, to not knowing or at least claiming not to know Lopes all that well when being interviewed by a reporter -- as well as being hopelessly drunk or high while doing stand-up in one segment -- making it seem like his character would be the bigger loser as a comic than Lopes.

There is also a rather undefined, not fleshed-out subplot about Lopes being a sort of “nowhere man,” who is trying to disguise his Hispanic heritage -- having re-named himself from William Lopez, which isn’t that much of a disguising stretch. As a writer, Liyes doesn’t give us enough about why his character is trying to do this or why his character seems like such a cipher or a loser to the other people in his life.

As an actor, Liyes seems quite natural in the role of a stand-up comic -- so much so that it’s surprising that stand-up comedy is not listed among his credits. He gives his all in this performance and the audience clearly recognized this in the final bows.

The inconsistencies in the show’s plot and the way the characters were written, however, struck again in an inconclusive, even confusing ending. It may be another quibble, but there were also inconsistencies about what time period the action of the play was taking place, whether it was the late 1980s or the present day, due to cultural references to both eras without any designation of a flashback.

All in all, “Choke City” had its moments, but could have used some answers to these questions raised by its storytelling.




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