A “disclaimer” at the beginning of the script even says it is a “semi-autobiographical” play: “There are truths, half-truths, less than half-truths, and downright fabrications.”
Right at the top, Gianmarco Soresi claims that he is “the writer and self-appointed star” of the play. And one of the first big fabrications is when Gianmarco tells us that his co-star at this particular performance, playing his one-time girlfriend Laura Catalano, is not his usual co-star, but the “actual” Laura herself. In the program, however, we learn that Laura is really being played by Hannah Hale, who, like the playwright who conceived her, is all over the map in her portrayal.
After telling us that he went to college “for musical theater,” Gianmarco adds that his degree helped him “get a job as a singing waiter.” And after introducing us to Laura, Gianmarco opens up a faux brick wall to reveal an overcrowded apartment, designed by Ashleigh Poteat. The two of them then proceed to reenact a scene from Romeo and Juliet, which they originally did for “Acting 101” in college, which is where they met.
We, of course, learn more about their backgrounds, including that Laura has “an adopted, Asian sister,” and that Gianmarco’s parents were divorced when he was “seven days old,” and that he now has four younger “half siblings.” Though it sounds like another big “fabrication,” learning that his stepfather was his father’s “former divorce lawyer,” it has the kind of ring to it that suggests it’s true. But also learning that his father has been married five times leads to a major theme: that as much as Gianmarco may want a relationship, he doesn’t believe one can last. The title is even a reference to the number of people whose first marriage endures.
Though there are recurring references to Woody Allen and more specifically to Annie Hall during the 90-minute piece, Less Than 50% bears as much resemblance to that Oscar-winning film as Gianmarco does to a matinee idol. (According to Gianmarco, his play is not a “rip-off” of Annie Hall, as Laura says it is, but an “homage.”) It’s telling that instead of the hysterical scene with lobsters in the kitchen in Annie Hall, we have to contend with a mouse and a mousetrap in Less than 50%.
While both Soresi and Hale seem overly enthusiastic and nervous, he seems to be playing himself, she’s more in character, as she delivers a truly effervescent performance as Laura. But you may find yourself wishing that director Jen Wineman toned them down a bit. It almost feels like they’ve both been shot out of a cannon at the beginning, and the entire piece follows the arc or trajectory to their landing with a thud, in the end, after Laura creates a new bond with a male nurse in Los Angles and their relationship skids to a halt. There is also a coda, which won’t be divulged here, that seems more far-fetched than anything that has come before–and even contradicts what we were told in the beginning.
The creative team does much better at earning and rewarding our attention–especially Driscoll Otto’s lighting design, Emily Auciello’s sound effects, and John Erickson’s projections.
Less Than 50% (through September 1, 2018)
New Light Theater Project
Theater C at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission