"Cycles," a Theatre Asylum Best of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, is back by popular demand, and with about the same running time that the more physically-minded among us might devote to a workout (a mere 59 minutes, and no intermission), this tight, quick, testosterone-fueled piece packs a powerful punch.
For the most part (but for a somewhat unneeded plot twist towards the play’s end), the performance is quite naturally contained within its premise: two men find themselves the only patrons in a Boston fitness club. Darwinian competition, budding bromance and subsequent drama ensue (oh, and a stationary bike race), all culminating in a veritable existential identity crisis. A lot can happen in an hour.
Our two men are Jake Weisz, a past-his-prime but very successful real-estate investor, and Andrew "Buzz" Burzini, a brash, young, Italian-Stallion type with a newly-minted real-estate license and a chip on his shoulder. First on the scene is Jake, the stage set with two exercise bikes, some free weights, a water cooler and wastebasket -- standard fitness fare.
After wistfully discarding a cigarette carton and visibly bemoaning the reflection of his protruding gut, Jake hunkers down to do a few poorly-executed crunches. Enter Buzz Burzini and cue Jake’s now-redoubled efforts to perform a decent sit-up, in vain.
The dialogue that arises between the two men does so very naturally, thanks in no small part to the finely crafted script by award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Robert Litz. A conversation initiated by Burzini begins safely in the realm of small talk: pleasantries and workout advice.
Gradually, more intimate details are revealed and, accordingly, tensions build and dissipate, then build once more. Through measured dialogue and well-paced developments, we the audience get to know these characters, both of who, though flawed, are extremely likeable.
One can’t help but to respect Jake, who roots his identity in his loyalty: his steadfastness in his marriage and his reliability as a good landlord. He is a natural mentor, wizened by the cycles of his own life, not to mention the cycles of a fickle real-estate market.
By contrast, Buzz, yet to even make his first deal, is impatient, chomping at the bit with a meat headed aggression and looking to make a quick buck by flipping condos. He roots his identity in a compensatory masculinity; getting buff at the gym and, though married, sleeping around. Buzz is reactionary: his identity is the result of cycles of bullying and deep pain, pain he now wishes to inflict upon those he would blame for a dead-end life.
There is much that separates these two characters -- age, religion, background, and outlook -- but equally important is their common ground. Both strive to maintain their identities (their masculinity, more particularly) even as they are undermined, whether by a female coworker trying to get in with the boys, or by some young, snotty, Ivy-League MBA refusing to give due deference to a superior he sees as a dinosaur.
The differences and similarities between these two characters ultimately come to a head, bringing us to the one bone I have to pick with the script: the plot twist in the final stretch of the play is somewhat unconvincing. The drama need not have been heightened at all -- Litz had already given himself much to work with -- yet the identity crisis that serves as the play’s conclusion did indeed require higher stakes and, perhaps (spoiler alert!), a prior relationship between the two characters.
Maybe the same conclusion could have been achieved through different contrivances, but the questionable plot point is still handled deftly by Litz and only provoked a slight eyebrow raise.
Ultimately, this is an incredibly well-wrought and complex play that grapples with timeless questions of identity and responsibility, with the fateful and dispassionate cycles that leave some on top and others behind. Alan Rosenberg, a veteran actor and former President of the Screen Actors Guild, is brilliant as Jake Weisz, and up-and-comer Dominic Rains certainly holds his own as Andrew "Buzz" Burzini (and when he strips down to his tank, well...let’s just say he’s not unattractive).
A wonderful script by Litz and precise direction by Stefan Lysenko, combined with the talents of Rosenberg and Rains, result in a must-see production.