Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company's "The Current" can be seen at 1515 Broadway in Detroit through Dec. 4. Photo: Charles Nowak

Play and playwright make a delightful debut

By Martin F. Kohn

In the first act of his first produced play, a traditional but refreshing comedy called "The Current," Sean Paraventi offers more genuine laughs than anything I've seen all year. If he doesn't watch himself, Paraventi is in danger of becoming the next Neil Simon.

Now, why in the 21st century, the age of irony, multimedia and cutting-edge stagecraft, would any writer want to be the next Neil Simon? Could you possibly get more unhip? Simon has written some three dozen plays (possibly more, he works fast), perhaps 40 screenplays, won four Tonys (plus an honorary one), a Pulitzer Prize, has had a Broadway theater named after him and, along the way, brought laughter to millions of theatergoers around the world. Eww.

Yet, here, enabled by director Molly McMahon and a willing Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company cast and crew, is Paraventi writing the kind of play that might have had your parents in stitches - something about a bride-to-be and her three pals dropping in on a psychic, Madame Camille, before they get plastered at their bachelorette party. Bridesmaids? Psychics? Drunks? Theater doesn't get more old-school than that.

OK, bowing to contemporary sensibilities "The Current" is raunchier than your traditional comedy, so don't bring the kids. "The Current" is current. "The Odd Couple," it ain't.

But Paraventi can sling a zinger with the best of 'em. Intently watching the pointer move on a ouija board, one character observes, "It's like a really slow text message." Another, describing her buff boyfriend who works at a salad counter, dreamily intones, "Talk about fat-free Italian." There's the story of someone's aunt or cousin who worked as a regressive psychic: She could predict the past. And that's only the setup to what may be the evening's best punch line.

"The Current," though, is more than a collection of one-liners. There are secrets revealed, anxieties shared, relationships examined, friendships tested. Although the bride and her pals are skeptical, the psychic has their number - in one case, literally: It's 7. This will be explained in the second act. Indeed, all the psychic's insights, which leave the audience hanging (and sticking around) at the end of act one, are clarified in act two.

Frannie Shepherd-Bates' Madame Camille is worldly, not otherworldly, as much an empathetic therapist as she is a psychic. No wonder the other four women take to her (some quicker than others). Kirsten Knisely, as Sharon, the group's acknowledged slut (her word) plays up her character's unapologetic attitude well, and Jaclyn Strez is an endearing bundle of worry of self-doubt.

The play has some kinks, more noticeable in act two with fewer jokes to hide behind. One person acting drunk can grow wearisome. Four people acting drunk can grow more wearisome. Fortunately the alcohol begins to wear off after a while.

There are some brief lulls in the conversation, dead spots that should iron themselves out as the actors become more comfortable with the material and with each other. And a couple of laugh lines haven't been anticipated, which is understandable since the play opened without previews.

Paraventi is a promising writer whose next play is awaited with great anticipation. Meanwhile, given its abundance of warmth and laughter, "The Current" is the kind of play that could enjoy a life beyond its originating theater.

As Madame Camille says, most people don't come to her to learn about the future, they come to be entertained. She does not disappoint.

'The Current'

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company at 1515 Broadway St., Detroit. Thursday-Saturday through Dec. 4, plus Wednesday, Nov. 24; no show Thanksgiving Day. $18. 313-408-7269.

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